Mary Anne Marsh: Mueller report is no victory for Trump, despite what president says

In the wake of the report last week by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, President Trump claims he has been completely cleared of serious accusations involving collusion with Russia to help him get elected, and obstruction of justice to hinder the investigation of the collusion charge.

This is simply not true.

What really happened is that Mueller effectively referred his case against Trump to Congress, just as he referred 14 cases against others related to his investigation to federal courts over the course of his 22-month investigation.

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The only reason Trump isn’t facing the possibility of criminal charges today is the fact that Mueller followed Justice Department guidelines that say a sitting president can’t be indicted.

But Trump was not exonerated. And his troubles are far from over.

Since Justice Department policy bars Mueller from seeking an indictment against Trump while he is president, the special counsel clearly prepared his report as a roadmap that shows Congress how it can take action if lawmakers choose – including impeachment that could force Trump from office.

Without free and fair elections we don’t have a democracy. There is nothing free or fair about the interference in the 2016 election, and Trump has done nothing about it because he was the beneficiary of the interference.

While there are still investigations underway, court cases in litigation and subpoenas yet to be unsealed, the first jury Trump will face is Congress if members hold him accountable while he is in office. That will be followed by the voters in the 2020 election, and the courts when Trump is no longer in the White House.

Mueller's report pointedly demonstrates the lengths the Russians went to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and benefit the Trump campaign. The Russian interference is much more extensive than previously made public and there is still ample evidence that hasn’t been revealed.

President Trump and his defenders have seized on this sentence in the Mueller report to back up the president’s repeated claim that “there was no collusion” between his presidential campaign and Russia to help him get elected: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But Trump defenders conveniently ignore this sentence in the Mueller report: “The Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome through hacking and distributing stolen information.” The report also states that the Trump campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released from Russian efforts.”

And the Mueller report mentions a televised public comment by presidential candidate Trump in July 2016 in which he stated: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” referring to emails Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton deleted from the private account she used when she was secretary of state.

“Within five hours of Trump’s statement,” the Mueller report says, “GRU (Russian intelligence) officers targeted Clinton’s personal office.”

Trump and his defenders would have us believe this Russian action five hours after Trump requested it was just a remarkable coincidence. They also dismiss multiple contacts between the Trump campaign and people with ties to the Russian government as having no significance.

Importantly, the Mueller report says Trump campaign officials did not report these multiple contacts with Russians to U.S. law enforcement authorities. The Trump campaign should have made these reports. It can be inferred that campaign officials didn’t do so because they wanted Russian help to defeat Clinton in the 2016 election.

It is clear – even with the redactions in the Mueller report – that Trump family members, numerous campaign aides, associates and supporters all met with Russians during the 2016 campaign. We don’t know everything that was said at those meetings. But we could learn more in the remaining investigations, including one that focuses on WikiLeaks.

It is also clear that while in office Trump tried to end the subsequent investigations of his campaign’s ties to Russia. In fact, the Mueller report documents 10 specific instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump.

These 10 instances of potential obstruction include: Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, who began the investigation of Russian election interference; the president’s efforts to remove Mueller as special counsel and curtail his investigation; Trump’s attempt to have then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions take control of the Mueller investigation; and the president’s conduct involving three associates – former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, former chairman of the Trump presidential campaign Paul Manafort, and former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen.

Remember, the reason the investigation was launched was Russia’s interest in interfering in our election. Russia started that effort in 2014. An investigation into Russian interference was launched in 2015. Soon after Trump announced his candidacy the meetings and communication between his campaign and Russia began.

For this reason alone, Congress has no choice but to investigate Trump. As a co-equal branch of government with the responsibility of acting as a check on the executive branch, it would be a dereliction of duty not to act. Among many considerations is the fact that the 2020 election depends upon it.

The bottom line is that unless Congress acts to secure our elections, Russia will meddle in them again.

The Mueller report reveals that Manafort provided Russian political consultant Konstantin Kilimnik – who allegedly has ties to Russian intelligence and was indicted by Mueller – a briefing about the Trump campaign in 2016. This should alarm every American and be addressed by Congress.

The briefing by Manafort, who is currently serving a prison sentence for federal crimes, included internal campaign polling and message strategy. It focused on four key swing states: Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Minnesota

In the general election, Trump won three of the four states – Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania – by the slimmest of margins. A mere 77,000 votes in those states collectively made the difference in the election.

The Mueller report revealed multiple Russian efforts to influence our election, including by utilizing WikiLeaks, with a propaganda campaign on social media, and by planting seeds of unrest in targeted communities. The report also revealed that Russians breached county computers in Florida. All this provided further proof that our elections are not secure.

We know that Russia interfered with our elections at every level and targeted every state election system. But we don’t know if other election systems were breached because they are still under investigation by the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and others.

What did Kilimnik and the Russians do in the three states that determined the outcome of the election? Why don’t we know the answer to that question?  What happened to the other 49 states the Russians targeted for hacking?

Elections are the bedrock of our democracy. Without free and fair elections we don’t have a democracy. There is nothing free or fair about the interference in the 2016 election, and Trump has done nothing about it because he was the beneficiary of the interference.

Congress must hold President Trump accountable and secure our elections. It isn’t an either-or proposition. Congress must do both.

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The Constitution demands that Congress act as check on the president of the United States. Our democracy demands that steps be taken to stop Russia from meddling in our elections again – especially since Trump is doing nothing to stop them.

If Russian interference in our elections happens again, the United States of America will no longer be a democracy. That is unacceptable. Every American must insist that Congress protect our country and our democracy, and that means protecting our elections from another Russian attack.

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