The Mueller Report Is Here
The Justice Department released on Thursday a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election. Mueller first submitted his report last month to Attorney General William Barr, who released a four-page summary on March 24. Leading up to Thursday’s release, Barr held a news conference in which he defended the president’s actions.
The nearly 400-page long redacted version of the report is divided into two volumes — the first volume focuses on coordination between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign team, and the second focuses on Trump’s possible obstruction of justice after assuming the presidency.
Read some of the main takeaways from Brennan Center experts:
Michael Waldman, president, Brennan Center:
The issue of whether a president has obstructed or can obstruct justice is very important: it’s not just about whether there’s enough evidence for a grand jury to bring criminal charges. We’ve always held presidents to a different standard. When it comes to presidents, it’s an abuse of power.
Wendy Weiser, director, Democracy Program:
Putting aside the striking narrative of Russian interference in the 2016 election and presidential misconduct, I am taken aback by the extremity of Attorney General William Barr’s misrepresentation of the report’s findings and seeming disregard for even the appearance of impartiality. This is a serious blow to the Department of Justice and the rule of law.
Lawrence Norden, deputy director, Democracy Program:
Separate and apart from the issue of collusion or obstruction of justice, the Mueller report is a reminder just 18 months before our next presidential election that a foreign power engaged in a major effort to interfere in our elections in 2016. In addition to a massive effort on social media, including the purchase of political ads, Russia targeted state and local election boards, breached and extracted data from a state registration database, and used spear phishing attacks to gain access to and infect computers of a voting technology company and a Florida County.
In the coming months, we must take additional critical steps to ensure public confidence in the 2020 elections. That should include: (1) Congress and the states providing more money to upgrade and secure critical election infrastructure; (2) ensuring that the 12 states that presently use voting machines without paper backups replace those systems; (3) mandating robust post-election audits to confirm voting machine totals; (4) mandating the sharing of cyber threat information between election vendors, federal authorities, and local election officials; and (5) passage of the Honest Ads Act in Congress, which would make it more difficult for foreign powers to purchase political advertisements on the internet.
Rudy Mehrbani, Bernard and Anne Spitzer Fellow and senior counsel:
I worked in the White House for more than four years, under four White House counsels and four chiefs of staff. The conduct outlined in the report is simply unimaginable and without precedent: The president and the chief of staff asking another official to create a false record, seemingly in exchange for an ambassadorship (pp. 254-55, 260); the president ignoring the advice of his chief of staff and White House counsel to meet one-on-one with the FBI director (pp. 245-46); the president contacting the FBI director about an ongoing investigation over the White House counsel’s objections (pp. 269-71); the president lying to his chief of staff about the location of the AG’s resignation letter (pp. 291-92); the president telling his WH counsel to intervene in the AG’s recusal decision (p. 263); and the president communicating through intermediaries with the subject of a criminal investigation who was fired from the White House (pp. 255-56). The list goes on.
The Saturday Night Massacre pales in comparison. This is why we gravely need to codify the restraints we previously assumed presidents and senior officials would follow – as recommended by our National Task Force on Rule of Law & Democracy. It’s also why Congress needs to investigate and make its own independent judgment about the president’s conduct.
Daniel I. Weiner, senior counsel:
The Mueller report’s analysis of potential campaign finance violations by the Trump campaign, including those arising out the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with agents of the Russian government, leaves many unanswered questions. The law prohibits candidates from accepting anything of value from a foreign national, including agents of a foreign government. Full stop. The fact that a prosecutor decided (rightly or wrongly) that he could not prove criminal intent does not mean the law was not broken. It is now up to the Federal Election Commission to pursue these serious allegations through the civil enforcement process. Alas, given the Commission’s track record, I am not optimistic. Hopefully I will be proven wrong.
Spencer P. Boyer, director, Washington Office:
As a former intelligence officer who regularly briefed the Obama White House on Russian interference in the West, I was gratified to see the Mueller report give a fuller picture of how the Kremlin and its proxies attempted to influence American sentiments leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Despite President Trump’s claims to the contrary (and sole focus on whether or not collusion was proven), the report reminds us all how vulnerable we still are to foreign interference. The report also reminds us that while the president has broad authorities, Congress must embrace its Article I power to protect federal investigations, the courts, and congressional proceedings from attempts to undermine them.