Robert Mueller and His 'Vacuum-Activities'
Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,
I gotta get one man till I die,
Can't help nabbin’ dat man of mine. -- Adapted from Showboat
Anyone who has read the document appointing Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” knows how far-reaching and indiscriminate that Bill of Attainder -- er, that enabling order is. Generally, prosecutors -- which manner of beast a special counsel essentially is -- are mustered when there is a crime to be investigated.
In this case, however, there was no identifiable crime. There was only suspicion -- and hard feelings, very hard feelings.
So Mr. Mueller -- who everyone, from Trey Gowdy on down, has repeatedly assured us is the straightest of straight arrows -- was given carte blanche. He was empowered to investigate not just “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” -- “links” as in golf courses? Who knows? -- but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation” (my emphasis). And “any other matters (my emphasis) within the scope of” the relevant statute.
Then, the concluding nudge/incentive: “If the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.”
To appreciate what a wide mandate Robert “straight-arrow” Mueller has been given, just cast your mind back over the nearly twenty people he has indicted so far, and consider especially what they have been indicted for. The stated rationale for this investigation, remember, was possible “collusion” -- it was the word of the moment several months ago -- between Donald Trump (or at least his campaign) and Vladimir Putin (or at least nefarious Russian actors standing in for Putin). But so far, we have:
- General Michael Flynn, President Trump’s first national security advisor, who was indicted for lying to the FBI during a set-up interview even though the agents conducting the interview concluded that he was telling the truth. That indictment is now under review.
- George Papadopoulos, a young policy advisor to the Trump campaign, who was also indicted for lying to the FBI. Before he was associated with the campaign, Papadopoulos had encountered a Russian professor who told him the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, something he boasted about to an Australian diplomat (one with ties to the Clintons, as it turns out) during a night of drinking.
- Then there was Paul Manafort, briefly Trump’s campaign manager, and his associate Rick Gates. They were indicted for money laundering and related activities that took place long before the 2016 campaign. (“Any other matters,” you see.)
- Then there are the 13 Russian nationals who bought Facebook ads, set up bogus Twitter accounts, etc., in order to sow confusion and division during the 2016 campaign. Some of their activities were aimed at Hillary Clinton, some at Bernie Sanders, some at Donald Trump and other candidates. Their aim was the same as in previous elections going back to the 1920s: to create doubt and suspicion about the integrity of the democratic process.
- Finally (well, not “finally,” really, but finally to date) there is the case of George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman with ties to the United Arab Emirates whom Mr. Mueller and his pack of prosecutors (16 at last count, all Democrats) are questioning about “any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Mr. Trump during the presidential campaign.”