Mueller senior deputy Andrew Weismann has joined a long list of top Justice Department officials publishing their critiques of DOJ’s numerous criminal and counterintelligence investigations of the Trump campaign’s dealings with Russia, and the President’s obstruction of justice by his interference in these investigations. Following is a brief summary of events before, during and after the Mueller investigation. The Atlantic Monthly interview with Weismann regarding his experience with the Mueller investigation is attached at the end.
In 2015, as the presidential election campaign was just beginning, the FBI initiated an investigation of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State, following practice of previous Secretaries of State, had installed an individual email server at her home, as a convenience, so she could communicate with her office while at her home in the New York City area. All internal State Department communications are monitored; all secure communications are labeled; and all employees have clear instruction to prevent sending secure information outside the State Department system. The FBI concluded its investigation a year later, four months before the 2016 election, and FBI Director James Comey, in violation of FBI policy for such circumstances, called a national press conference, and announced the conclusion. Of 62,000 emails on Clinton’s server, 32,000 were personal, and 30,000 were State Department related, either received or sent. Of the entire 62,000 emails, the FBI found 52 emails which contained 110 classified communications in their strings; of these a total of 11 were “Top Secret”; 36 were “Secret”; and the remainder were “Confidential”, the lowest level of classification. The classified emails included numerous communications that were mislabeled or contained minor, innocuous references to national security matters. This is equivalent to a 0.2%, or one fifth of one percent “failure rate”. Comey announced there was no criminal offense; that the server had not been hacked; that Clinton’s actions were not untypical of employee practices relative to evolving State Department communication policies; that Clinton had shown no intent of disloyalty, deception or concealment; and that the investigation had been closed. Comey then went on to sternly scold Clinton publicly for her “extreme carelessness” in handling the emails.
But Comey announced a few months later, the week before the election, that the FBI was re-opening the Clinton email investigation, after finding a related trove of Clinton emails on her senior staffer’s laptop, that had surfaced in an unrelated investigation. Then, just a few days before the election, Comey announced that these were the same emails, again announced no criminal offense, re-closure of the investigation, and, in defense of his actions, again pronounced his previous conclusion that Clinton had been “extremely careless” in her handling of official emails. The DOJ Inspector General later concluded that Comey’s public announcements violated well established DOJ policy and were “extraordinary and insubordinate”. Comey later stated that he fully expected Clinton to win the election, and so overruled internal FBI legal advice in announcing the investigation and its conclusion.
Meantime, the FBI was investigating Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort; longtime Trump adviser, former Nixon “dirty trickster”, Roger Stone (a long term former business partner of Manafort at Black, Stone, Manafort & Kelly); and former Defense Intelligence Agency head and future Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, along with several other Trump campaign aides, for coordinating Trump campaign efforts with known Russian intelligence agents and intermediaries. These included Konstantine Kilimnik, Wikileaks and others, all acting as part of a well-publicized Russian government effort to tip the U.S. election to Donald Trump, in exchange for termination of American sanctions and acceptance of Russia’s annexation of oil-rich southern Ukraine and the strategic region of Crimea. Kilimnik was Manafort’s partner in Ukraine, where Manafort was paid several million dollars over ten years to re-elect a corrupt, pro-Russian candidate who had been thrown out in the 2004 “Orange Revolution”. Unlike the Clinton case, which dragged through the press for a year, Comey never mentioned any of these investigations publicly, so the voting public was wholly unaware of the extensive Trump investigations before the election.
This all reminds me of the great comic scene in “Pink Panther”, when Inspector Clouseau avoids awareness of a bank robbery playing out right behind him, and unwittingly assists the bank robbers, while busying himself lecturing and ticketing an unlicensed, blind, street organist, who provides a tangled, legalistic explanation of his business arrangement with his illicit lap monkey; the blind organist is revealed later to have been a lookout for the bank robbers.
After Trump was elected, he immediately began demanding that the FBI Director, his Chief of Staff, his Attorney General, the White House Counsel, among others, terminate the investigations of him, of Michael Flynn, of Paul Manafort, and of Roger Stone, repeatedly threatening to fire FBI Director Comey, then threatening to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions, then threatening to fire Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe, then threatening to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. When no one would, Trump fired FBI Director Comey directly; then Trump directed Jeff Sessions to fire Acting FBI Director McCabe; and then Trump fired Attorney General Sessions directly.
Rosenstein finally got the message, and promised the President he could “land the plane” regarding the Trump investigations. McCabe, fired hours before earning his pension, was on his way out the door, and handed the counterintelligence investigation off to Rosenstein, who told McCabe he would consolidate it with the criminal investigation of the Trump campaign. Rosenstein then announced the Special Counsel investigation and named former FBI Director Robert Mueller to run it. However, unknown to McCabe or the public, Rosenstein instructed the Special Counsel to drop the counterintelligence aspects of the investigation, and limit the scope of his investigation to criminal violations by the Trump campaign in their dealings with Russia; and to criminal obstruction of justice violations by the President in his efforts to interfere with the investigations. So the counterintelligence investigation, unbound by specific criminal statute proof standards, was terminated altogether, just as Trump demanded. The Trump campaign and obstruction of justice investigations proceeded under vague criminal statute standards, and under overarching DOJ policy which precludes bringing criminal charges against a sitting President. Thus the Mueller investigation became a great hypothetical exercise, like a medieval theological argument.
As the Mueller investigation ground on in silence, Trump persisted almost daily for two years with continuous rants about the “Deep State” conspiracy against him, and continually repeated his rejection of conclusions regarding Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections, by separate U.S. House and U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee analyses; official CIA conclusions; and official FBI summaries; referring to the matter continuously as a “hoax”. Trump issued continuing public threats to fire the Special Counsel; publicly encouraged and suggested pardons for witnesses and investigation targets; asserted broad and unfounded executive privilege and used repeated court appeals to avoid providing documents and testimony. All of this intimidated the Mueller team which was limited by the reductionist scope, policies and instructions of their DOJ masters; was frustrated by false testimony of key participants; and was slowed by frequent and redundant multi-level court appeals of document demands. Mueller made the decision to avoid examination of Trump’s finances, the strongly suspected source of evidence of his enrichment by Russian oligarchs; then made the decision to avoid interview of Trump’s family members who were directly involved in the Russia dealings; then made the decision to drop the requirement for Trump’s direct sworn testimony; and then decided to limit extended court appeals, thus failing to secure key documents and testimony.
Two years after the investigation began, Trump’s new Attorney General, William Barr, delayed release of a largely blacked-out Mueller report until Good Friday, and called a national press conference to announce that the report cleared the President and his campaign of any collusion with Russia, of any criminal activity, and of any obstruction of justice. Several days later, Mueller, stunned, publicized his own letter directly contradicting Barr’s public conclusions, saying they were highly misleading to the American public; that substantial evidence of collusion and criminal activity existed, but did not meet the high standard of proof required for conviction by criminal statute; that clear and extensive evidence of obstruction of justice by the President had been presented in the report; that additional evidence was obstructed by refusal of documents and false testimony; and that criminal offenses were not concluded due to DOJ policy prohibiting such charges from being brought, all as explained in the report itself.
Following is Andrew Weismann’s inside story of how a treasonous President beat the rap.