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.