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While there’s ample evidence to indict Trump for obstruction and Democrats naively trusted Mueller, more crucial issue is the missed opportunity to negotiate stronger nuclear weapons treaties—Larry Wilkerson joins Paul Jay

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PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay.

Well, President Trump was elated after Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General Barr. Here’s a little clip from Trump, which I suppose people have seen over and over again. But here it is again.

DONALD TRUMP: There was no collusion with Russia. The most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction. And none whatsoever. And. It was a complete and total exoneration. It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. This was an illegal takedown that failed.

PAUL JAY: Well, of course, the Mueller report, as far as we know, because all we do know was through a memo written by the Attorney General, in fact did not exonerate President Trump on the issue of obstruction, although Barr did. But on the issue of collusion it did exonerate President Trump.

Now joining us to talk about all of this and its significance is Larry Wilkerson. Larry is a retired U.S. Army soldier, former chief of staff to United States Secretary of State Colin Powell. He’s a Distinguished Professor at the College of William and Mary, and a regular contributor here at The Real News. Thanks for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Good to be with you, Paul.

PAUL JAY: So it seems to me the leadership of the Democratic Party has hoisted itself on its own national Cold War chauvinist petard. They made such a big deal out of the great adversary, adversarial country of Russia. And that the collusion of Trump, they assumed, with Russia would be such a demonization, drawing on every demon from the 1950s that they could to kind of stoke all these fears. And they also turned Mueller into practically a saint. He was so respectful. They were for how long, two years, they’ve been falling over themselves building up Mueller as a trustworthy source. And now in the end he doesn’t deliver for them, and now they’re trying to cope with it all. What do you make of it?

LARRY WILKERSON: The way you just described it brought to my mind immediately the naivete and the lack of expertise at dogfighting and being in the arena and really getting rough that the Democrats display all the time. And also the lack of political skills that they display all the time. Bob Mueller is known, if anyone checks, as the Republican clean up man. He is a Republican. When there’s a mess, call Bob. His integrity alone will affect the issue, ultimately.

So it’s not something that I didn’t expect. I didn’t expect as much of a naivete on the part of the Democrats, though. And that’s particularly with regard to Russia, that they would, along with, now, China, try to give us a second almost great power rival in Russia and resurrect the Cold War, which is essentially what they compelled themselves to do as they extolled Bob Mueller at the same time they were demonizing Putin and Russia. We’ve got a situation now where it’s almost impossible, even for Donald Trump, defying, if you will, some of the issues about Russia to resume talks with Putin over what should be immediately talked about, nuclear weapons.

Because we need to talk. Russia and the United States need to talk, and we need to ultimately multilateralize those talks, and bring in China, and bring in India, and Pakistan, and Israel, and North Korea. We need a global arms control regime for nuclear weapons. Start out bilaterally, perhaps, but we need ultimately a regime that more or less looks like or amends or moves the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty beyond its present status of almost being brain dead on arrival. We do need to do something about probably the most dangerous weapons in the world today, in terms of not only their destructive power and the fact that we’re closer to their use than we’ve been for a long time, maybe as close as we’ve ever been, as Kashmir just demonstrated; the crisis in Kashmir between Pakistan and India.

PAUL JAY: I mean, in spite of Trump suggesting, at least the early in his presidency, that he wanted to have more normal relations with Russia, it’s actually a Trump administration that’s abrogating and ending treaties on nuclear weapons, and doesn’t seem to have any interest in developing negotiations for any further nuclear arms treaties.

LARRY WILKERSON: Well, as national security adviser, John Bolton is not an arms control treaty man. Bolton believes that every treaty that was ever signed was an abridgment of American sovereignty in some way. And I don’t think John would sign a treaty with anyone. Even though it did help negotiate the Moscow treaty, but that was under orders from President Bush and Secretary Powell.

I think the reason–and here’s how this works in this incredibly insane political world–the reason Trump did not come back from Helsinki and call Putin immediately to something that probably was agreed in Helsinki informally, a second meeting in Washington, was because of the domestic political environment. And where Trump found himself at that time, he could not invite Putin, because others were making Russia out to be such a demonized state. So the most important thing they probably talked about in those private moments, I hope, anyway, was nuclear weapons. And the real reason for Putin’s accepting coming to the United States and wanting to talk again with Trump was probably nuclear weapons. I mean, he’d be a fool for that to be the main reason. And Trump would be a fool. And I know that begs a question. But to not make that the main reason. These are very dangerous weapons. We’re getting, as I said, in a very dangerous time again with these weapons. So we precluded that second meeting in Washington, or somewhere, because of the domestic situation we created, and the Democrats were complicit in this, around Russia and around Trump’s inability to make that invitation.

PAUL JAY: Now, just to go back to the Mueller report, while the Mueller report did not find collusion, it didn’t rule out obstruction. But apparently it also confirms that there was Russian interference in the 2016 elections. We haven’t seen the reports, so we don’t know if we learned anything new about that. A lot of what we’re supposed to know we’re supposed to take on faith that the American intelligence agencies have reached certain conclusions, and based on those conclusions we’re supposed to reach the same conclusions. And we’ve always been, what’s the word, unwilling to take anything the American intelligence agencies say on faith. But that being said, if in the end it turns out either in the Mueller report or some other where there actually is some evidence of some Russian interference or attempt to influence the U.S. election, how big a deal is that to you?

LARRY WILKERSON: I look at it this way. Last night I watched the Frontline special entitled ‘The Mueller Report.’ It’s going to be on, as I understand it, tonight, maybe tomorrow night. I watched it online. Anywhere in that very excellent presentation, which was mostly factual, it just gave you the Trumps’ statements, it gave you the Trump actions, and those associated with it. Anywhere in there–I’m no lawyer. I am not a lawyer. I don’t know the law the way a lawyer would. But anywhere in there, as I understand obstruction of justice, you could get Trump half a dozen times or more on obstruction of justice just from the lies. And the lies that come in the context of a pursuit of justice, if you will. And the fact that those lies immediately struck that pursuit of justice.

Now, maybe they’re saying–Mueller, maybe, is saying when the president lies it’s different. I know I had a president who said that. And I know Richard Nixon, apparently, thought differently. I think Nixon even at one time said something to the effect “If I do it it’s legal,” “If the president does it it’s legal,” “If I say it, it’s true.” That sort of thing. I think that sentiment becomes very much an executive branch sentiment. Karl Rove saying, essentially, if I repeat a lie enough times you will believe it. It will become the truth. Our power will make it the truth. That seems to be the way President Trump believes in spades.

So just through that documentary, if you’re watching it, you say, well, he lied there, and that was certainly an obstruction to anyone trying to track that particular issue to some sort of resolution that I assume would be called justice. Maybe they have a different conception of justice. They certainly seem to. But that is enough for me to say that the President obstructed justice. Is he indictable while in office? I don’t know. I say let’s try it and see.

PAUL JAY: Well, I guess the House is going to investigate all this now. But I just want to ask you again, is it not rather normal that countries try to influence the outcome of elections, other people’s elections, in their interests? And of course the United States organizes coups to do this.

LARRY WILKERSON: The greatest influence on American elections outside of domestic entities is Israel. Israel is a foreign agent operating in the United States to get senators, representatives, and presidents, and even Cabinet members, appointed. Israel is the most influential outside power in the world influencing U.S. elections. There’s no question about that. None whatsoever. People lie and dissemble and deny. But there’s no question about it. Not in reality.

You take other countries, like Saudi Arabia. They’re gaining on Israel in that regard, too, especially with the money Mohammed bin Salman spent in the United States in order to influence our public opinion about him and about Saudi Arabia. So that Russia influenced our elections, if they did in any significant way, is still, I think, very questionable, significant way, but that they did it, I would feel like they were remiss if they didn’t try something. I mean, we did this all the time during the Cold War. We were always messing with each other in the Cold War. It’s just become a lot easier and a lot more significant and accelerated to do with all the technology today, and the dependence we have, in particular, on that technology.

PAUL JAY: Well, I’ll just end this by repeating what I’ve been saying for at least two years, is that if the Russians did what they’re accused of doing, it’s nothing compared to what the American billionaires do to undermine what’s left of U.S. democracy.

LARRY WILKERSON: You didn’t ask me about domestic interests undermining democracy or about elections.

PAUL JAY: Well, go ahead.

LARRY WILKERSON: There are plenty of them, from Charles and David Koch, to Robert Mercer, to Paul Singer, to Sheldon Adelson. The list goes right down the 400 richest families in America, almost. Although some of them are pretty decent people and refrain from doing such things. But there are people who will buy a congressmen in a minute. Buy a congressman a minute.

PAUL JAY: Yeah. If we want a special prosecutor we should have one that focuses on that. Thanks very much for joining us, Larry.

LARRY WILKERSON: Thanks for having me.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

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Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy

Lawrence Wilkerson's last positions in government were as Secretary of State Colin Powell's Chief of Staff (2002-05), Associate Director of the State Department's Policy Planning staff under the directorship of Ambassador Richard N. Haass, and member of that staff responsible for East Asia and the Pacific, political-military and legislative affairs (2001-02). Before serving at the State Department, Wilkerson served 31 years in the U.S. Army. During that time, he was a member of the faculty of the U.S. Naval War College (1987 to 1989), Special Assistant to General Powell when he was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-93), and Director and Deputy Director of the U.S. Marine Corps War College at Quantico, Virginia (1993-97). Wilkerson retired from active service in 1997 as a colonel, and began work as an advisor to General Powell. He has also taught national security affairs in the Honors Program at the George Washington University. He is currently working on a book about the first George W. Bush administration.