By Victor Davis Hanson
December 4, 2018 6:30 AM
Criminals and partisans, accusing others of criminality and partisanship.
Robert Mueller’s legal team may write a damning report on Trump’s ethics, based mostly on flipping minor former business associates of Trump’s and transient campaign officials by threatening them with long prison sentences.
So far, we know that the U.S. government decided to intervene in a political campaign to help one candidate and to smear the other — under the pretext of Russian “collusion.” And so it hired or made use of spies and informants including Hank Greenberg, Stefan Halper, Felix Sater, and others to contact Trump campaign officials to catch them in supposed collusion traps.
It enlisted the help of foreign intelligence agencies, specifically the British and Australians. It misled FISA courts into granting warrants to spy on Americans and, post factum, threatened long prisons sentences with those surveilled and interviewed. And as a result, it has so far found no collusion but may well find some misleading statements in hundreds of hours of testimonies from the likes of Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and perhaps Jerome Corsi and Roger Stone.
Mueller cannot fulfill the hype of the past 18 months, which forecast that the “all-stars,” the “dream-team,” and the Mueller “army” would make short work of the supposedly buffoonish Trump by proving that he colluded with Russia to swing an election. Collusion, remember, was hyped as doing what the Logan Act, the emoluments clause, the 25th Amendment, impeachment, media frenzy, and assassination-chic rhetoric had not.
By indicting a number of minor characters on charges that so far have nothing to do with collusion — for purported crimes mostly committed after the special-counsel appointment — Mueller has emphasized the quantity rather than the quality of indictments.
Mueller was tasked to find collusion (itself not a crime) committed during 2015 and 2016, not to prompt more purported crimes by setting perjury traps, and purported obstruction-of-justice liabilities. If in May 2017 the frenzied media had known that 18 months later Mueller would end up targeting the provocateur Roger Stone and Inforwars’ Jerome Corsi, it would have been sorely humiliated.
Mueller has already weaponized politics, making a crime out of the tawdry business of opposition research — but only sort of, since his interests in doing so are highly selective. And so his chief legacy will have little to do with whatever he finds on Donald Trump. He has already established the precedent that there is now no real equality under the law, at least as Americans once understood fair play and blind justice.
Once Mueller deviated from his prime directive of determining whether Donald Trump colluded — sought help from the Russian to win the 2016 election in exchange for the promise of later benefits — and turned to indicting political operatives for supposedly giving false testimonies about political shenanigans and engaging in illegal business practices, lobbying, and tax avoidance, he either knowingly or unknowingly established a precedent that the serial misdeeds of 2016 would be treated unequally under the law.
The 13 Russian nationals whom Mueller symbolically indicted will not come to the U.S. to face trial, and they will certainly not be extradited, a fact known by Mueller.
Yet Christopher Steele, a British subject and de facto unregistered foreign agent, is eminently indictable and extraditable. He was paid through two firewalls (Fusion GPS and Perkins Coie) by Hillary Clinton to tap Russian sources to compile a smear dossier on her opponent, with the intent of warping the U.S. election — a classic example of foreign-agent interference in an American campaign.
If we were to take away that one purchased document, then the FISA court warrants, the informants, and all the CIA, FBI, and DOJ machinations would likely have disappeared or never arisen.
Obama-administration officials Bruce Ohr (whose wife worked on the dossier) at Justice, James Comey at the FBI, and John Brennan at the CIA all in some manner colluded with Steele, either directly or indirectly, to monitor the Trump campaign and then to seed the dossier among government agencies and courts, both to ensure its leakage and to brand it with a stamp of official seriousness, warranting investigations and media sensationalism.
Speaking of FBI informants, quite a different one has testified that Putin’s Russia had sent millions of dollars to a U.S. lobbying firm, in hopes of persuading Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to use her influence with federal officials to close the so-called Rosatom Uranium One deal.
At roughly the same time, Bill Clinton was given a lucrative half-million-dollar fee for speaking in Moscow, while millions of dollars from Uranium One investors had poured into the Clinton Foundation — which after Clinton’s 2016 defeat has seen its contributions precipitously decline.
In another related matter of Russian collusion, Barack Obama in a hot-mic exchange with then–Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, in March 2012, eight months before Obama’s reelection, asked Medvedev to give Putin the assurance that if Putin would give Obama “space” during his reelection campaign, then Obama in turn would have “more flexibility” on issues such as missile defense “after my election.”
That quid pro quo was clarified six months later when an unusually quiet Putin darkly announced to the world that any deployment of U.S.-led NATO missile-defense systems would be targeted against Russia in a Romney administration — as compared with the actions in supposedly less bellicose Obama presidency. And after expressing no interest in interfering in an American election, Putin clearly made it evident that he preferred an Obama victory.
Most observers now laugh off this entire sordid incident. But in the present climate, if Donald Trump had been caught in a similar hot-mic exchange with a top Russian official, and had Putin later expressed the idea that he preferred a Trump presidency to a Democratic one, and had U.S.-led missile-defense efforts abruptly stalled in Eastern Europe, then Robert Mueller would be hot on Trump’s trail — given that such an overt quid pro quo, benefiting a candidate’s reelection campaign, is far more explicit than anything Mueller’s 18-month investigation has yet turned up.
Perjury and False Testimony
Bruce Ohr filed a false federal disclosure affidavit, in that he did not reveal, as required, that his wife was employed by Fusion GPS to work on the Steele dossier. Nor did he disclose that after the election he had been in contact with Steele, offering his help in the effort to find proof of collusion.
James Comey, along with Andrew McCabe, Rod Rosenstein, and Sally Yates, at various times submitted requests to a FISA court that deliberately never disclosed that their chief evidence for such surveillance was 1) paid for by Hillary Clinton (instead, the applications claimed vaguely that it was a product of generic opposition research, likely and by design confusing its Republican-primary origins with its maturity under Clinton auspices), 2) used as a circular source for news accounts produced in turn to establish its fides, 3) unsubstantiated and either not fact-checked or found to be impossible to verify, 4) compiled by an author already dismissed by the FBI as a unreliable asset.
Either Andrew McCabe or James Comey has likely perjured himself; or both may have. Their conflicting testimonies about leaking information to the media, and the relative importance of the Steele dossier for FISA court warrants, cannot be reconciled.
Comey deliberately leaked memos of presidential conversations to a friend in the media; these memos were classified as secret or confidential and perhaps in at least one case actually contained classified info. His intent, according to his own testimony, was to alter the nature of a Department of Justice investigation by having a special counsel appointed. A short time later Robert Mueller, a friend and former working associate of Comey’s, was appointed as the special counsel.
John Brennan has never fully or honestly explained his conversations with Senator Harry Reid concerning the Steele dossier, or Reid’s purported version that Brennan was briefing Reid in order to make sure that such intelligence — leaked widely — would be seeded with the FBI. And the FBI has never explained whether, at the height of a presidential campaign, it hired informants to be inserted into the Trump campaign or to associate with minor Trump officials in order to draw them out about the Steele dossier or set perjury traps for them.
Brennan has never faced consequences for admittedly lying under oath to Congress about collateral drone damage and surveillance of Senate staff computers; James Clapper likewise admittedly lied to Congress about NSA surveillance and faced no consequences. Has any administration ever had its two top intelligence officials admit to lying under oath on matters of national policy and security, and with impunity to a congressional committee?
Both Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills likely lied to FBI investigators about the extent of their knowledge of Clinton’s private email server. In Orwellian fashion, FBI investigator Peter Strzok claimed that Abedin and Mills were not truthful to the federal investigators, while he concluded that General Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national-security adviser, had been.
Yet Flynn was targeted for giving false information to federal officials, while Abedin and Mills never were. Of course, Clinton herself lied when she insisted that she had transmitted no classified information over the server, and she destroyed over 30,000 emails Congress had subpoenaed — all without any criminal liability.
Obstruction of Justice and Conflicts of Interests
Bruce Ohr, while a Justice official, was negotiating with Fusion GPS on a variety of matters, while his spouse was employed by Fusion founder Glenn Simpson to research the Steele dossier.
Glenn Simpson deliberately misled a congressional investigation about his post-election efforts to collect anti-Trump information, and he sought to disguise the fact that he was actively operating with donors and activists to smear the Trump team during their transition to the White House.
No one has ever seriously investigated the activities of Daniel Jones, who worked for Fusion GPS and was apparently a former FBI agent and staff investigator for Senator Dianne Feinstein, and who as a freelancer received millions of dollars from anti-Trump donors (reportedly Silicon Valley activists and George Soros) and, after Trump was president, in March 2017, met with FBI officials to share information gathered by his Penn Quarter Group designed to harm the Trump presidency.
Andrew McCabe’s spouse was a recipient of huge contributions from a Clinton-affiliated super PAC for her 2016 candidacy in Virginia, and not much later her husband was tasked to exercise key oversight in the Clinton email scandal.
Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel, signed a dubious FISA warrant request. Such surveillance was apparently useful to his appointee Robert Mueller’s ability to issue indictments against some minor Trump officials. Was Mueller ever going to examine whether Rosenstein improperly helped produce a FISA court warrant that was central to Mueller’s own investigation?
The Podesta brothers had long had ties with Russian business interests approximating Paul Manafort’s own Russian connections, and John Podesta occupied a key role in Hillary Clinton’s reelection bid (analogous to Manafort’s in the Trump campaign) — with the difference that he was never fired but played an increasingly important role in Clinton’s campaign efforts.
Leaking and Improper Transfer of Classified Information
In addition to the leaking by the FBI’s two top officials, James Comey and Andrew McCabe, we know that several top Obama officials requested the unmasking of names of U.S. citizens swept up in FISA surveillance. And some names then found their way into the media cycles before the election and during the presidential transition.
In the voluminous text correspondence between Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, there is also reference to a planned joint “media leak strategy with DOJ” to smear Carter Page. Again, no one has been charged with the deliberate leaking of government documents and communications to the media for the expressed intent of harming a presidential campaign and transition.
CNN, relying on government and congressional officials’ leaks, falsely reported a number of damaging Trump stories: that transition official Anthony Scaramucci had colluded with a Russian financial official about easing sanctions; that Donald Trump knew in advance of a meeting that his son had agreed to with a Russian operator; that Trump Jr. knew in advance of the contents of the WikiLeaks Podesta trove; and that James Comey would testify to Congress that he never had assured Trump he was not under investigation.
These were all fake news stories, prompting retractions or resignations, and they came from deliberate government leaks floated to harm the Trump administration — in the manner later outlined in a September 5, 2018 op-ed by a Trump-administration official who admitted to actively impeding, with other veritable saboteurs, the actions of the president, in the belief that many of the “resistance” like him in the executive branch had a moral duty to thwart the actions of a duly elected president.
In sum, a group of Obama-administration officials and appointees in 2016 colluded with Clinton-campaign personnel to ensure that Donald Trump would not be elected in 2016 and, later, to make sure that his transition and early presidency would fail or be aborted.
Such officials took great risks (some 25 FBI and DOJ officials subsequently retired or were fired or reassigned) in working with foreign interests such as Christopher Steele and by extension his Russian sources to break U.S. laws and to attempt to warp an election — in the belief that there was almost no chance that Trump would be elected. In a Clinton presidency, their beyond-the-call-of-duty insurance work would be rewarded rather than punished.
These efforts failed to stop Trump from winning, and they did not derail his transition. Yet deliberate leaking to the media of the now-stale Steele dossier, “research” from FBI informants planted among minor Trump campaign officials, and improperly warranted government surveillance of former Trump-related officials created a media frenzy, out of which a fired James Comey helped engineer a new lever against Trump: the special-counsel investigation.
In the subsequent 18 months, Robert Mueller assembled a highly partisan team of lawyers and investigators that included a number of Clinton donors; lawyers who had represented either the Clinton Foundation, a Clinton aide, or an Obama official; and rank anti-Trump partisans such as Lisa Page and Peter Strzok. Their task was to investigate the charges of Russian collusion as planted by those in government and Christopher Steele and his abettors.
Such skullduggery poses the question of whether Mueller’s investigation has been simply derailed by partisanship. Or has it effectively served as a deliberate distraction from the felonious behavior of dozens of Obama-administration and Clinton-campaign officials — all determined to ensure, by any means necessary, that Trump would never be president?
Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won. @vdhanson