By ERIC LU
In May 2017, lifelong Republican and former Marine Robert Mueller was appointed by former Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to become the head of a special counsel of the FBI with the stated goal of finding “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” This incredibly broad mandate led to a two-year investigation into the extent of Russian involvement within the 2016 election, and possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence. Now, the full Mueller report has been released to the public. Prior to its release, President Trump frequently attacked the integrity and accuracy of the special counsel, arguing that it was a partisan attack from the Democratic Party and loudly claiming “NO COLLUSION.” Trump also attempted to stop the report from completion or release several times, and the report documented these actions as possible examples of obstruction of justice. Besides the possibility of criminal charges, the existence of the Mueller report points to both an eroding trust in the Presidency as well as in the integrity of the office itself.
When it comes to the issue of collusion, the report analyses the Russian involvement within the Trump campaign over the course of the 2016 election. However, it is important to note that Mueller’s responsibility was to not only find out if the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election, but whether or not such involvement specifically included or was directed by President Trump. Russian involvement is almost undeniable, with numerous instances such as Russian social media attacks and the hacking of the Democratic National Convention, showing that the Russian government had a vested interest in the 2016 election. Moreover, the Russian government clearly supported the Trump campaign, as indicated by the criminal indictments from the special counsel. However, to prove that collusion occurred, the counsel would need to prove that President Trump sought out or accepted Russian aid. Following this standard, the Mueller report has not found sufficient evidence to accuse the President of conspiring with the Russian government. That being said, the Mueller report did find many unsuccessful attempts at what can be considered collusion, such as the President’s lawyer Paul Manafort, who provided polling information to a known Russian spy or the infamous Trump tower meetings. These actions have led to charges against 38 individuals, 8 of whom were heavily involved in the Trump campaign. This includes Manafort, who was found guilty and had to give up over 26 million dollars in assets. It is clear that there exists a general pattern of corruption within the Trump Campaign, even if the President himself has escaped charges.
What is much more concerning for the President when it comes to the Mueller report is the actions that he has undertaken that may constitute obstruction of justice. These include but are not limited to Trump directing his White House counsel to fire Mueller and asking former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation. Mueller makes it clear that he is not claiming that Trump is innocent of obstruction of justice. On page 214 of the report, Mueller writes that “if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” This leaves room for Congress to indict the President if they find that the evidence compiled by the special counsel is proof of criminal obstruction of justice.
Given the conclusion of the Mueller investigation, the logical question to ask is “what now?” The investigation still leaves many questions unanswered, and what comes next regarding Trump’s potential criminal activity remains to be determined. There are those such as the current Attorney General Bill Barr, as well as the President himself, who have taken the Mueller report as a complete vindication, and others who believe that the behavior outlined by the report in relation to obstruction may be grounds for either indictment or impeachment. Regardless of how the Mueller report pans out, it has nonetheless raised questions about the office of the presidency, regarding both the electoral process and possible criminal activity once a President takes office. In short, the existence and potential implications of the Mueller report has degraded the office of the presidency, exposing deep levels of corruption among the highest levels of government, as well as leaving the question of whether a sitting president can be indicted unanswered. It is likely that we will feel the repercussions of this report for years to come. Post-report, the office of the Presidency has lost a large portion of its legitimacy regardless of the actions that Congress chooses to undertake. It is an office that both can be earned through dishonest means and is no longer definitively above the law.