where i stand ‘The report does not exonerate him’
Although Special Counsel Robert Mueller stated that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
But whatever the findings, everything Congress needed to know about Donald Trump and Russia was already clear. As writer and onetime Republican operative David Frum wrote recently in The Atlantic, “It’s not a theory but a matter of historical record that Vladimir Putin’s Russia hacked American emails and used them to help elect Trump to the presidency… It’s not a theory but a matter of historical record that Donald Trump publicly welcomed this help: ‘I love WikiLeaks!’”
First and foremost, the William Barr four-page summary of the approximately 400-page Muller report by no means suggests there was no collusion between Trump and the criminals he surrounded himself with and the Russian government to improve his prospects for election. What the report says, according to Barr, is that Trump and his gang could not be proved guilty of conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt.
Mens rea — the intention or knowledge of wrongdoing — for conspiracy is incredibly difficult to prove in a case like this. But what we do know, is that Russia and WikiLeaks clearly put Trump over the top.
By the second week of October, 2016, public interest in the huge trove of hacked Clinton emails surged and not coincidentally, Clinton’s poll lead over Trump peaked on Oct. 17 and steadily shrank thereafter.
There has been no official assessment as to whether Russian interference in the election put Trump over the top but, according to conservative columnist Max Boot, “outside experts who have examined the the Kremlin campaign —which included stealing and sharing Democratic Party emails, spreading propaganda online and hacking state voter rolls — have concluded that it did affect an extremely close election decided by fewer than 80,000 votes in three states.”
Clint Watts, a former FBI agent, writes in his recent book, “Messing with the Enemy,” that “Russia absolutely influenced the US presidential election,” especially in Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump’s winning margin was less than 1 percent in each state.
We still don’t know the full extent of Russian interference, one of the reasons the public needs to see the complete Muller report, but we know its propaganda reached 26 million people via Facebook alone. A BuzzFeed analysis found that fake news stories on Facebook generated more social engagement in the last three months of the campaign than did legitimate articles: The “20 top-performing fall selection stories from hoax sites and hyper- partisan blogs generated 8,711,000 shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook.”
Almost always fake news was either started or spread by Russian bots, including claims the pope had endorsed Trump and that Hillary Clinton had sold weapons to the Islamic State.
It’s important not to lose sight of the reality that although Trump himself might not have broken any criminal law in accepting help from Putin, he likely committed many wrongs. And if approximately 100 contacts between Trump campaign operatives and Russian officials with ties to the Kremlin and Putin and then lying about all of set those contacts does not constitute collusion, I don’t know what does.
Trump’s profound ignorance, venality and childishly impulsive behavior make him and his moneygrubbing family existential threats to the safety of the United States. Democrats appear hesitant to impeach this menace, but for the safety of the United States, they should rethink their caution.
Stephan Lesher is a retired journalist and a resident of Southbury.