No Mitch McConnell, It’s Not “Case Closed”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared "case closed" on the Mueller Report and the Russia investigation. This is far from the truth.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor today to declare “case closed” with respect to the investigation of Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election and the question of whether or not the Trump campaign and Administration sought to collude with Russian officials or obstruct the investigation, but he couldn’t possibly be further from the truth:

WASHINGTON — Senator Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, called on Congress on Tuesday to move on from the Mueller report and issued his own verdict from the Senate floor: “Case closed.”

“With an exhaustive investigation complete, would the country finally unify to confront the real challenges before us?” Mr. McConnell asked. “Or would we remain consumed by unhinged partisanship, and keep dividing ourselves to the point that Putin and his agents need only stand on the sidelines and watch as their job is done for them?”

“Regrettably,” he continued, “the answer is obvious.”

Mr. McConnell’s speech pointed up the profound gap between the Republican-controlled Senate and the Democrat-controlled House. House Democrats are locked in an escalating fight with President Trump, who is trying to slam shut House investigations of all sort. The House Judiciary Committee is preparing to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress on Wednesday for ignoring a subpoena for the full report of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, and his underlying evidence.

The Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, told the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts, that he would not turn over six years of Mr. Trump’s personal and business tax returns, as demanded by Mr. Neal under the federal tax code. And the White House on Tuesday instructed Donald F. McGahn II, the former White House counsel, to hold onto documents subpoenaed by House investigators because President Trump may want to assert executive privilege over them.

Even in the Senate, some moderate Republicans, such as Susan Collins of Maine, have said they would at least like to hear from Mr. Mueller.

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California issued a blistering joint statement in response:
“Senator McConnell’s declaration of ‘case closed’ is a stunning act of political cynicism and a brazen violation of the oath we all take,” the said. “The Special Counsel report laid out eleven instances of the President’s obstruction, and left a raft of unanswered questions about coordination between the President’s campaign and Russia. These are not trivial or political questions — they go to the wellspring of our democracy.”

Senator Mark Warner of Virginia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, was similarly unsparing, given that his committee’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election is ongoing.

But Republican leaders say questions of abuse of power and obstruction of justice are over. Mr. McConnell waved the congressional Democrats off their investigations, arguing that “re-litigating a two-and-a-half-year-old election result” and continuing to traffic in “fanciful conspiracy theories” fixated on “delegitimizing the president” would hurt the country.

Over at The Washington Post, Philip Bump notes that the Majority Leader’s declaration of victory is, at best, premature:

The case that’s closed, he says, is this claim that Democrats and those talking heads had made about a “conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.”

Let’s work backward from that. It’s true that the special counsel’s report states flatly that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” That’s the sentence fragment that Attorney General William P. Barr included in his four-page summary of Mueller’s findings in March.

But it’s important to recognize what Mueller actually determined. It is not a blanket exoneration of Trump and his campaign, as Trump likes to present it, but instead a failure to build a provable case. Two paragraphs later, the report makes this clear: “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”

What’s more, when considering the question of conspiracy, Mueller’s team applied a tightly bound standard for coordination, one that would “require an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.” It’s a standard that “requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.”

If one were to apply a term to describe the looser interactions suggested by that latter sentence, one might use the term “collusion.” The special counsel’s report is explicit that it wasn’t assessing collusion specifically because it’s a loosely defined term that has been used in a variety of ways as it pertains to the Russia probe. That McConnell points to “conspiracy” rather than “collusion” is intentional: It lets him make the claim that “on that central question,” the case is closed. But he also claims that this is the standard that was in broad use by Democrats and TV talking heads when, instead, they were much more likely to use that more loosely defined phrase, collusion.

McConnell’s not making a mistake here. He’s intentionally claiming that people on TV and on the other side of the aisle broadly made a claim that they didn’t make to state that the claim was already specifically rejected.

This isn’t an academic exercise. There was certainly hyperventilating about Trump, treason and Putin. There were allegations that Trump was a willing puppet working with Russia’s interference efforts. Generally, though, the question of collusion between the campaign and Russia often focused on something less than a tacit agreement between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference — with three strictly identified components of Mueller’s investigation highlighted for emphasis.

(…)

That’s the flip side to this, of course. McConnell is declaring a very specific and less commonly made case to be closed while ignoring that the obstruction question is very much open, given Mueller’s pointed declaration that Trump wasn’t exonerated on the point and a broad outcry that Barr’s after-the-fact exoneration of the president on that point was flawed. Not to mention the various other issues that still exist, as our Aaron Blake pointed out: the various investigations mentioned in the report that are still hidden from public view, questions about Trump’s business activity and taxes, the campaign-finance charges in which Trump was implicated by his former attorney. All of these cases are still open.

(…)

Every case on every question is now closed, McConnell’s argument goes, because Mueller with the evidence at hand couldn’t prove a particular type of coordination between Russia’s government and Trump’s campaign. All water under the bridge, except for the streams that branched off several yards back and are now causing severe flooding.

Melanie Schmitz at Think Progress, meanwhile, accuses the Majority Leader of outright lying in his statement:

Mueller’s report did not exonerate Trump, as McConnell and many other Republicans have suggested. Though the special counsel did not find evidence of criminal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, it did establish a multitude of ties between the two sides, and noted that the campaign appeared eager to accept damaging information on Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from a foreign adversary.

Notably, the report also detailed at least 10 instances involving Trump that may have constituted obstruction of justice. Mueller ultimately did not refer any indictments based on those examples, but appeared to leave it to Congress to take the next step.

Additionally, the special counsel’s investigation, which closed in March, is hardly “over” as McConnell suggested. Rather, it has resulted in a number of outside probes. The report notes that Mueller specifically referred 14 other cases for external prosecution, 12 of which were redacted. The remaining two cases were left unredacted in the report and are related to former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig and Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and longtime “fixer,” who pleaded guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations last year.

Bump and Schmitz are both, of course, absolutely correct.

What McConnell, and by extension, the vast majority of House and Senate Republicans along with the White House is cherry-picking what we know about what the Mueller Report said without considering everything in toto and without giving due consideration to the things that it didn’t say.

The report didn’t say, for example, that there was not an effort on the part of people involved in the Trump campaign to coordinate with Russia in releasing damaging information regarding the Clinton campaign and with obtaining such information for its own use. We know this isn’t the case given events such as the June 2016 meeting between Trump campaign officials and a lawyer linked to the government as well as contacts made with people close to the Russian interference campaign by persons close to Trump like Paul Manafort and Roger Stone.

The report also didn’t say that there was no effort by the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election in favor of President Trump. Indeed, this investigation resulted in the indictment of more than a dozen Russians in March of last year and the indictment of a dozen Russian intelligence officials that was handed down just days before the President’s pathetic and obsequious meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  Additionally,
Trump’s own intelligence chiefs have made clear that there is overwhelming evidence that Russia did, in fact, interfere in the election and that they intended to do so in both the 2018 midterm elections and the upcoming 2020 Presidential election.

The report did not say that there was no effort on the part of the President or other members of the Trump Administration to obstruct justice during the course of the Russia investigation. This is because the report itself did not touch on issues of obstruction in detail.

Finally, the report does not speak to the dozens of other matters related to Trump’s businesses and other activities that are apparently being handled by U.S Attorneys in Washington, D.C. and New York City as well as the Attorney General of New York. These investigations are apparently looking into everything from the finances of The Trump Organization to the operation of the President’s charitable foundation, which based on many reports, appear to have been little more than a slush fund for the Trump family.

So, no Senator McConnell, it’s not “case closed” no matter how much you might wish it was.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Law and the Courts, Politicians, Russia, Russia Investigation, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Franklin says:

    We know roughly what happened: 1) The Trump campaign informally sought help winning the election from Russians who were eager to provide it, and 2) Donald Trump repeatedly tried to obstruct justice, but cannot be indicted as a sitting President in the view of the people with the power to do so.

    Whether there are consequences for these actions remains to be seen. Therefore, the case is not closed.

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  2. reid says:

    Please, Kentucky, vote this hyper-partisan, arrogant JA of a turtle out of office.

  3. Kathy says:

    I’m not a lawyer, but I’m thinking “accessory after the fact.”

  4. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Bigger picture; Republicans have had 6 weeks to shape this same bogus narrative while Democrats dither. They really need to take some action if they want to help save the Republic.
    What doesn’t get enough notice; McConnell himself was the person who refused to let Obama release a bi-partisan statement on Russian interference before the election. He is as complicit in this as Dennison. But as a reward for his submissiveness to Putin, he is getting an Aluminum processing plant in Kentucky. So good for him.

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  5. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    Though the special counsel did not find evidence of criminal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, it did establish a multitude of ties between the two sides, and noted that the campaign appeared eager to accept damaging information on Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from a foreign adversary.

    The report also states that:

    the investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.

    So the report does say Mueller couldn’t find conspiracy…it does NOT say conspiracy didn’t happen.

  6. Gustopher says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:

    But as a reward for his submissiveness to Putin, he is getting an Aluminum processing plant in Kentucky. So good for him.

    We don’t know that there is a quid pro quo, only that it looks bad.

    There should be House hearings on this, and the Obama administration’s actions with Russian interference, and any Republican interference in the Obama administration’s actions.

    The accusation floats around with modest backing, and lends itself to conspiracy theories. It needs to see the bright light of day.

  7. Kathy says:

    You know, we should treat all criminal suspects the way the GOP is treating Dennison.

    Consider, we take their denials at face value, we don’t check their alibis, we ignore what investigations reveal, and at one stroke we slash down crime down to almost nothing, and solve the prison overcrowding problem.

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  8. JKB says:

    So what you are saying is, that it ain’t over until you get the results you desire. That’s similar to the response to the Brexit vote. Vote again, till we get noBrexit then it’s can never be questioned. Similar to the EU constitution. After it got voted down they decided to stop asking those pesky peasants.

    And we just had Hillary Clinton refuse to accept the results of the 2016 election by claiming it was “stolen” from her.

    And what is the purpose of the Special Counsel if not to investigate and lay matters to rest? Seems like a waste of $35 million dollars and entirely partisan political if it doesn’t resolve anything.

    Ludwig von Mises had the modern Democrats’ number 90 years ago:

    The parties of special interests, which see nothing more in politics than the securing of privileges and prerogatives for their own groups, not only make the parliamentary system impossible; they rupture the unity of the state and of society. They lead not merely to the crisis of parliamentarism, but to a general political and social crisis. Society cannot, in the long run, exist if it is divided into sharply defined groups, each intent on wresting special privileges for its own members, continually on the alert to see that it does not suffer any setback, and prepared, at any moment, to sacrifice the most important political institutions for the sake of winning some petty advantage.

    All antiliberal parties want nothing but to secure special favors for their own members, in complete disregard of the resulting disintegration of the whole structure of society. They cannot withstand for a moment the criticism that liberalism makes of their aims.

    Mises, Ludwig von (1927). Liberalism

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  9. Just Another Ex-Republican says:

    I think we should listen to McConnell. After all, he’s THE absolute master at de-legitimizing a President for partisan purposes and hurting the country, and knows what he’s talking about.

  10. An Interested Party says:

    So what you are saying is, that it ain’t over until you get the results you desire.

    That’s not what anyone is saying, but, of course, you already know that…nice try, though…

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  11. Mister Bluster says:

    @Kathy:..and at one stroke we slash down crime down to almost nothing,..

    This is why I advocate for anarchy. If there are no laws there cannot be any crime.

  12. Kathy says:

    @Mister Bluster:

    Wait til you hear the new GOP Healthcare plan: don’t take any medicines.

    After all, only sick people take medicines. If you don’t take them, you’re not sick!

  13. Gustopher says:

    @JKB:

    Seems like a waste of $35 million dollars

    Manafort forfeited more than that, so we’re running a profit.

    For someone in a party that keeps saying they want government to be run like a business, I would expect at the very least a round of applause for Mueller turning a profit.

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  14. Andrew says:

    I may I have said it before. But, I will say it again. Will someone please force Trump to wear a tan suit? This way Republicans will finally be outraged over the caliber of the POTUS, and his judgment.

    The orange and the tan…mm mmm mmmmm.
    we can just tell Donald he will set his own Trump’s Terrifically Tan Treason Trousers!!! They will sell biggly!

    Ps. The GOP should be tried for crimes against America. Can not hide behind the just following orders excuse, either.

  15. An Interested Party says:

    Wait til you hear the new GOP Healthcare plan: don’t take any medicines.

    After all, only sick people take medicines. If you don’t take them, you’re not sick!

    I suppose that’s slightly better than their old plan: If you don’t have health insurance, go to the ER when you are sick, or, just die…

  16. Jax says:

    @JKB: Were you in a coma during Benghaaaazi and the eeeemmmmails investigations? “It’s not over til I get the results I want”, indeed.

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  17. Moosebreath says:

    @JKB:

    “So what you are saying is, that it ain’t over until you get the results you desire.”

    Says the true believer from the party which brought us 8 Benghazi investigations.

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  18. Barry says:

    @JKB: “And what is the purpose of the Special Counsel if not to investigate and lay matters to rest? Seems like a waste of $35 million dollars and entirely partisan political if it doesn’t resolve anything.”

    $80 million for a blow job, with the right still screeching about the Clintons.

    The projection is strong.

  19. Guarneri says:

    Oh, it’s not case closed alright. It’s just starting. Who’s first to get indicted, Comey or Brennan?

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  20. Scott F. says:

    “So what you are saying is, that it ain’t over until you get the results you desire.”

    Um, no. What people are saying is that the Mueller reports delivered the results desired – facts backed by evidence. And those facts support Mueller’s conclusion that Trump could not be exonerated on obstruction, but also that Mueller couldn’t indict due to OLC policy.

    What you are trying to do, slavishly following Trump, Barr and McConnell, is to spin these results so they aren’t as damaging to the POTUS as they so clearly are.

    In this way it is like Brexit – a Big Lie sold to the uninformed and when faced with reality the Lie is shown to be a fraud.

  21. Liberal Capitalist says:

    @Moosebreath:

    Says the true believer from the party which brought us 8 Benghazi investigations

    Actually, there were a total of ten:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Investigation_into_the_2012_Benghazi_attack

  22. gVOR08 says:

    McConnell said,

    Or would we remain consumed by unhinged partisanship, and keep dividing ourselves to the point that Putin and his agents need only stand on the sidelines and watch as their job is done for them?

    Projection. It’s always projection with Republicans.

    Yes, McConnell’s role in failure to address Russian meddling should be investigated and thoroughly publicized. Along with the whole aluminum plant thing. The House should subpoena the ….illegitimus.

  23. Moosebreath says:

    @Liberal Capitalist:

    “Actually, there were a total of ten:”

    True, but only 8 were from Congress. I don’t think JKB would accept the validity of the internal Obama Administration investigations, any more than I would accept an investigation led by Barr into Trump’s dealings.

  24. al Ameda says:

    To be fair to Mitch, I remember when he called for an end to the countless ‘Private eMail Server’ and ‘Benghazi!!!’ investigations of Hillary Clinton.

  25. Steve V says:

    Mueller couldn’t find sufficient evidence of conspiracy with “Russia.” As Marcy Wheeler I believe pointed out, it looks like Mueller did not focus on the possibility of conspiring with Wikileaks to be a crime (or at the very least, “coordinating” with them, which indisputably happened), and also was not fully confident he could establish that all of the Russian people involved were necessarily “Russia” (e.g. Deripaska).

    Also, no one seems to point out that the whole goal of obstruction is to make an investigation more difficult, or ultimately to make it fail. The better the obstruction, the better the chances that the investigation will be be unsuccessful. Mueller notes that he was unable to dig into the circumstances surrounding Manafort’s sharing of polling data because Manafort refused to cooperate, because (presumably) Trump floated a pardon. So, in perhaps the most concerning part of the “election interference,” the investigation was indeed obstructed, successfully.