Special counsel Robert Mueller has indicted 13 Russian nationals for allegedly conspiring to sow confusion in the 2016 presidential election. The chance of extraditing any of the accused from Vladimir Putin’s Russia is zero.
Some of the Russians’ Keystone Cops efforts to disrupt the election favored Donald Trump (as well as Bernie Sanders). Yet Mueller’s team made it clear that the Russians neither colluded with any U.S. citizens nor had any material effect on the election’s outcome.
But from here on out, there will be ironies, paradoxes and unintended consequences with just about everything Mueller does.
Is it now time to prosecute foreigners for attempting to interfere with a U.S. election? If so, then surely Christopher Steele, the author of the Fusion GPS dossier, is far more culpable and vulnerable than the 13 bumbling Russians.
Steele is not a U.S. citizen. Steele colluded with Russian interests in compiling his lurid dossier about Donald Trump. Steele did not register as a foreign agent. And Steele was paid by Hillary Clinton’s campaign to find dirt on political rival Trump and his campaign.
In other words, Steele’s position is far worse than that of the Russians for at a variety of reasons. One, he is easily extraditable while the Russians are not. Two, his efforts really did affect the race, given that the dossier was systematically leaked to major media and served as a basis for the U.S. government to spy on American citizens. Three, unlike with the Russians, no one disputes that American citizens — Hillary Clinton, members of the Democratic National Committee, and anti-Trump partisan Glenn Simpson and his Fusion GPS team — colluded by paying for Steele’s work.
Mueller’s team has also leveraged a guilty plea from former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn for making false statements to FBI investigators. If the Flynn case is now the Mueller standard, then we know that a number of high-ranking officials are vulnerable to such legal exposure.
Department of Justice official Bruce Ohr deliberately omitted on federal disclosure forms the fact that his wife, an expert on Russia, worked on the Fusion GPS dossier.
Steele himself probably lied to the FBI went he claimed he had not leaked the dossier’s contents to the media.
Hillary Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills likely lied to FBI investigator Peter Strzok (who had also interviewed Flynn) when they claimed they had no idea that Clinton was using a private and illegal email server until the story went public. In fact, Abedin and Mills had communicated with Clinton over the same server — as did then-President Barack Obama, who likewise denied that he knew about the improper server.
Former FBI Director James Comey likely lied to Congress when he claimed that his exoneration of Clinton came after he had interviewed her. We now know from documents that he drafted a statement about the conclusion of the investigation even before he met with her.
As far as obstruction charges go, Mueller has other possible targets. Former Attorney General Loretta Lynch met secretly with Bill Clinton on a jet parked on a tarmac in Phoenix shortly before the Justice Department closed the probe of Hillary Clinton and chose not to pursue charges against her. Comey said Lynch asked him not to use the word “investigation” when discussing the Clinton email probe. Text messages between Strzok and fellow FBI official Lisa Page suggest that Lynch knew in advance about the conclusions Comey would reach in the investigation.
What is going on?
Mueller is under enormous pressure to find collusion between the Trump team and Russia, or to find that the Trump team obstructed justice by trying to hide such collusion. But neither likely happened. Mueller was appointed at a time of national hysteria, brought on by partisan journalism based on a leaked dossier — itself a product of a discredited British agent working with Russian sources while being paid by the Clinton campaign.
Worse still, the effort to hide the origins and the use of that dossier to obtain court permission to spy on American citizens may be a classic case of obstruction of justice.
Mueller’s existential problem has been with him from the start. Due to the shenanigans of his discredited friend Comey and a rabid media, he was appointed to investigate crimes that did not exist. But if they did exist, collusion and obstruction were committed by those associated with the Clinton campaign and even by members of the Obama administration.
Investigating any possible crimes committed by members of the Clinton campaign or the Obama administration apparently is taboo, given the exalted status of both. But every time Mueller seeks to find incidental wrongdoing by those around Trump, he only makes the case stronger that behavior by those involved in the Clinton campaign and the Obama administration should be investigated.
If such matters are not treated in an unbiased manner, we are not a nation of equality under the law, but a banana republic masquerading as a democracy.
Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.