Attorney General William Barr finally released Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, though it remains heavily redacted.
The report consists of two volumes, the first of which deals with Russian interference. The second deals with whether Donald Trump obstructed justice in relation to the Russian interference investigation.
In the course of the investigation Mueller made 14 prosecution referrals, two of which have been acted upon: one against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen,and one against Gregory Craig, who was a lawyer in the Obama White House. Mueller made no recommendation for prosecution of Trump himself.
The Real News Network’s Greg Wilpert spoke to Gerald Horne and Kamau Franklin about Trump’s possible obstruction of justice and Russian interference in a two-part panel on the Mueller report.
Horne explained to Wilpert that in terms of the “big picture,” the origins of this investigation relate to the “battle royale within the U.S. elite as to how to maintain U.S. imperialist hegemony.” As for Russian interference, echoing commentary made before on RNN, Horne stressed that the U.S. regularly interferes with other countries’ elections.
“Washington has made a habit of interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states all across the globe,” Horne said. “Right now, it’s seeking to destabilize Venezuela. It’s heightening tensions with Cuba.”
Franklin called the report “much ado about nothing” in terms of its long term effects on Trump’s presidency.
“I don’t think that there’s going to be enough evidence like Watergate where the president is going to be impeached and/or later once he’s out of office charged with a felony,” Franklin said.
He added that the continuing focus on the Mueller report speaks to the Democratic party’s ongoing refusal to self-reflect about its own failures during the election.
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
The so-called Mueller report is out. Attorney General William Barr finally released the report written by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The report, though, goes much beyond this initial focus. It consists of two volumes, the first of which deals with Russian interference, and volume two deals with whether Trump obstructed justice in relation to the Russian interference investigation. In the course of this investigation Mueller made 14 prosecution referrals, two of which have been acted upon so far against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and against Gregory Craig, who was a lawyer in the Obama White House. However, with regard to Trump himself, Mueller made no recommendation for prosecution. Here’s how Attorney General William Barr summarized the findings when he made the report public on Thursday morning.
WILLIAM BARR: So that’s the bottom line. After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts. After carefully reviewing the facts and legal theories outlined in the report, and in consultation with the Office of Legal Counsel and other department lawyers, the deputy attorney general and I concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.
GREG WILPERT: Trump, of course, was ecstatic in a White House appearance. He said the following.
DONALD TRUMP: I’m having a good day, too. No collusion. No obstruction. It should never happen to another president again. This hoax should never happen to another president again. Thank you.
GREG WILPERT: He also tweeted in the font from the popular TV series Game of Thrones “No collusion no obstruction for the haters and radical left Democrats. Game over.” Presumably he meant that the Game of Thrones is over and now he is king for the foreseeable future, or something like that.
Joining me to discuss the Mueller Report are Gerald Horne and Kamau Franklin. Gerald holds the John J. And Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His many books include Storming the Heavens and the Apocalypse of Settler Colonialism. Kamau is an attorney, activist, and writer. He’s a former cochair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers and former member of the New York Executive Committee of the National Lawyers Guild. Thanks both of you for joining us today.
So let’s discuss this report in two segments. In the first part we will talk about the big picture and the issue of Russian interference. And then in segment two I would like to focus on the issue of obstruction of justice and the role of the Justice Department in all of this. So let’s start with this first part.
So regarding the big picture it seems that almost everyone who’s analyzing the report is focusing on the details. But before we do that, let’s look at what this fight is really about. What do you think, Gerald? What is at stake here, and what is this all about?
GERALD HORNE: Well, in terms of the big picture I think you need to realize that in 2016 there was a battle royale within the U.S. elite as to how to maintain U.S. imperialist hegemony. Senator Clinton has suggested that Russia should be confronted first, is that the so-called allies, led by Germany and the European Union and Canada, should be enlisted in that regard. Trump and the Republicans took a different tack; that is to say that they are obviously targeting the People’s Republic of China, and would like to neutralize Russia, which is a major threat. In terms of the election in November 2016, in terms the Electoral College, Mr. Trump won the argument. But there is such a heavy investment in the pro-Moscow psychosis that it was inevitable that there would be a very severe backlash, not least from the national security establishment led by John Brennan, now an MSNBC commentator, and Jim Clapper, now a CNN commentator. And that has led to the Mueller report.
But as a historian, before I make a final determination about the Mueller report, I would also like to read the completed finished report by Inspector General Michael Horowitz of the U.S. Department of Justice, who now is investigating the investigators. And that might give us a fuller picture of what has been at stake.
GREG WILPERT: What do you think, Kamau? Would you agree with Gerald? And what about the argument also that has come up before, that in a way this also serves as a distraction on the ground is from Trump’s actual policies.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: No, I mean, I think that Gerald is correct. But I also think that this just seems to be the third act of a Shakespearean play, which in terms of criminal liability, you know, might be summed up as much ado about nothing. Because I don’t think that there’s going to be enough evidence, i.e. Watergate, where the president is going to be impeached and/or later on once out of office charged with a felony. So I think the–I think there are serious allegations and charges. But I also think that the Democratic Party in particular has used this idea that the Russians have interfered as a way to strike at Trump, and as a way to avoid some of the more important questions, I think, about the 2016 election. And for me, those more important questions include what was it that Trump spoke about that rung so dearly to a majority of not only white working class but white upper class and middle class people that they voted for Trump, clearly someone who was espousing racist and white supremacist views?
And two, for the Democratic Party, what was it about a candidate that was so weak, so ill-prepared in some ways, unable to bring out their own base that started shining a light on the poor performance of that candidate? The Democrats now switch to issues of trying to say that this campaign, that this election, was unfair as opposed to doing its own investigation into what led to its massive defeat in the 2016 election. I think if Democrats think more about those issues and think more about raising issues that are a real concern, I think to the larger public around elite tax breaks, wealth concentration, jobs that are well-paying that people could feed their families on, that they would do a much better job in the upcoming election in 2020.
GREG WILPERT: Now let’s get into the weeds. We can get back to the big picture later again. That is, I want to look also at the report itself in terms of what its conclusions are. And one of the things that it concludes is that there definitely was Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. And specifically the report cites how the Russian Internet Research Agency, a company that is set to have close ties to President Putin, engaged in a social media campaign to favor Trump and against Hillary Clinton. And the other issue or instance of meddling was how the group belonging to the Russian military hacked into the DNC computers to steal emails and released them in strategic moments during the campaign, and even also passed them on to WikiLeaks. However, the report does not find any collusion or conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government despite the numerous contacts between the two groups. What do you think one can conclude from these findings; that is, about the Russian interference, and the lack of collusion? So let me turn this again first to you, Gerald.
GERALD HORNE: Well, first of all, I think it’s a bit rich, is it not, that Washington is complaining about interference in their so-called sacrosanct elections when Washington has made a habit, a habit indeed, of interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign states all across the globe. Right now it’s seeking to destabilize Venezuela. It’s heightening tensions with Cuba. I could go on indefinitely. Secondly, it’s interesting as well that Mr. Trump and his cohorts were lying repeatedly during the course of this investigation. That raises the ancillary question as to what can we trust them with? I mean, can we believe anything that’s coming out of their mouth? As the defense lawyer often asked a lying witness, are you lying now, or were you lying then?
I think we also need to wait for more evidence with regard to foreign alleged interference in the internal affairs of the United States of America. The report mentions that George Papadopoulos, you might recall was a Trump comrade, was not necessarily an agent of Russia, although he may have been an agent, according to the report, of Israel. We also know that the Congresswoman from Los Angeles Maxine Waters has issued a subpoena to Deutsche Bank, the German bank which has been a major funder and financier of Mr. Trump. We should wait on those documents, because that might shed light on why Mr. Trump has been so harsh personally towards Chancellor Merkel of Germany, in particular. We all know about Saudi interference in the internal affairs of the United States of America. So I think that this Mueller report, accidentally or not, is raising as many questions as it is answering.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah, I think that’s a very important point, is that of course Mueller was not tasked with looking at Saudi Arabian and Israeli involvement in the U.S. presidential election. But what do you think, Kamau? What does this mean to you, this issue of Russian interference?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Yeah. I think that obviously there was Russian interference. And much like Gerald, I don’t think that was unexpected. I think that’s something that’s happened in U.S. elections, as well as the U.S. obviously interfering in not only elections, but overthrowing governments that it didn’t agree with. I think to be clear, though, that the Mueller findings did not say that there wasn’t collusion. It just said it couldn’t come to, have enough evidence to say that there was a criminal conspiracy, or at least not enough to indict. So the report itself documents, I guess, 100 pages of contacts between the Russian government and Trump allies, folks working on the Trump campaign, including Donald Trump Jr, his son. So I think that there is information that says that there were attempts at using information that was not only gotten from the Russians to smear their opponent. I think what the conclusion was was more or less that whether or not there was the mindset to bring charges, as in was there the right–did these folks who are doing it know that they were doing these acts in a way that was illegal? And I think the Mueller investigation gave the benefit of the doubt in some ways to folks as opposed to deciding that it could indict them.
But I think there were plenty of contacts, including Donald Trump Jr, of course, who famously had a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian surrogate to talk about getting information on Hillary Clinton. One other point, though. At the same time this was happening, let’s not forget that there was information that was dumped out on Donald Trump around his grabbing women’s private parts, and so forth. And so these were sort of competing negative narratives in the media at the same time. And still Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton in the election.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah. I mean, I think it’s also important to note that the Internet Research Agency only spent, according to the report itself, only spent $100,000, actually, on their activity in terms of buying advertising in Facebook and Twitter. And that’s really absolutely nothing compared to what the campaigns more generally spend in those areas in terms of advertising. And so the idea that they somehow influence the election just based on social media seems mind boggling to believe. But of course the whole DNC hacking, I think that’s probably a little bit–probably did play a little bit more of a role.
But anyway, we’ll get into some more of this. We’re going to have to leave it there. For our first segment I was speaking to Gerald Horne, Professor of History at the University of Houston, and Kamau Franklin, former cochair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. Join us for our second segment, where we will look into the Mueller report’s findings on obstruction of justice and the role of the Justice Department.