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Mueller probe’s credibility with Congressional Republicans is collapsing

Discrediting of Trump Dossier leaves credibility of Mueller probe with Republicans in tatters

The last few weeks have witnessed a string of articles and editorials in the media and from senior Democrats warning about supposed plans by President Trump and Trump supporting Republicans in Congress to sack Special Counsel Robert Mueller and to close down his Russiagate probe.

These ‘warnings’ typically come with claims that following the indictment of Michael Flynn Mueller is supposedly ‘closely in’ on Trump and that this explains why Trump and his supporters in Congress want to get rid of him.

This editorial in the New York Times is a typical example

The primary purpose of Mr. Mueller’s investigation is not to take down Mr. Trump. It’s to protect America’s national security and the integrity of its elections by determining whether a presidential campaign conspired with a foreign adversary to influence the 2016 election — a proposition that grows more plausible every day.

If the president’s supporters are upset about how close that investigation is getting to the Oval Office, they should ask not whether any F.B.I. investigator has ever held an opinion about politics, but rather why Mr. Trump chose as his closest advisers people with a tendency to talk to Russian officials and then fail to tell the truth, again and again, about the nature of those communications. As The Times’s Bret Stephens wrote:“Fire? Maybe not. But we are dying of smoke inhalation.” (Mr. Trump’s defenders might also recall that the president himself prompted Mr. Mueller’s appointment when he fired Mr. Comey, who had been overseeing the Russia investigation.)

When the propagandists say, “Get rid of Mueller,” it’s not the truth they’re trying to protect; it’s Mr. Trump himself. Any genuine interest in objective reality left the building a while ago, replaced by a self-sustaining fantasyland. If it’s hard to understand how roughly three-quarters of Republicans still refuse to accept that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — a fact that is glaringly obvious to everyone else, including the nation’s intelligence community and Mr. Trump’s secretary of state, Rex Tillerson — remember that a majority of the same people continue to believe that President Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

There was a time not too long ago when Republicans in Congress seemed genuinely interested in protecting Mr. Mueller — who, it bears noting, was originally appointed to head the F.B.I. by George W. Bush and who was named special counsel by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, also a Bush appointee. But Fox’s alt-reality vortex has sucked in previously levelheaded members of the G.O.P. like Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator who said as recently as October that there would be “holy hell to pay” if Mr. Trump tried to fire Mr. Mueller. Last Friday, Mr. Graham tweeted in support of “a Special Counsel to investigate ALL THINGS 2016 — not just Trump and Russia.” On Monday night, according to Axios, Jay Sekulow, one of Mr. Trump’s personal lawyers, called for a special prosecutor to investigate … the special prosecutor. The tipping point? An article on Fox News’s website about a top Justice Department official’s wife and her work for Fusion GPS, the research firm behind the so-called Steele dossier.

None of these attacks or insinuations are grounded in good faith. The anti-Mueller brigade cares not a whit about possible bias in the Justice Department or the F.B.I. It simply wants the investigation shut down out of a fear of what it might reveal. But if your man is really innocent, what’s the worry?

These sort of comments completely misunderstand or more plausibly misrepresent the dynamic of the last few weeks.

It is perfectly true that the tide of opinion amongst Republicans in Congress has in recent weeks shifted strongly against Mueller.  This is in sharp contrast to the position when Muelleer was appointed, when he enjoyed the strong support of Republicans in Congress as well as Democrats.

What has caused Republicans in Congress to turn against Mueller are the twin disclosures this autumn that the Trump Dossier – the foundation document of Russiagate – was paid for by the Hillary Clinton controlled DNC and by the Hillary Clinton campaign, and that eighteen months after its first entries were written the FBI is unable to verify it.

The media has stopped writing about the Trump Dossier and has avoided admitting its centrality to the whole Russiagate scandal. 

However it has become increasingly clear to close observers of the Russiagate affair that the Trump Dossier is the entire evidence for the following two propositions which lie at the centre of the whole scandal:

 (1) that it was President Putin himself who ordered Russian intelligence to meddle in the US election;

 (2) that there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians.

 I say this because after eighteen months of relentless investigation I have seen no evidence for either of these two propositions that comes from any other source.  

Note that the New York Times editorial I have quoted from above neither refers to the Trump Dossier nor to any evidence other than the Trump Dossier upon which to base its collusion allegations.

All it can come up with – apart from making ad hominem attacks on those whose skepticism about Russiagate is now being vindicated – is dredge up without naming him the case of General Flynn, which has nothing to do with the collusion allegations (“…why Mr. Trump chose as his closest advisers people with a tendency to talk to Russian officials and then fail to tell the truth, again and again, about the nature of those communications”)

Since the media prefers not to discuss the Trump Dossier the fact that it provides the only evidence for the Russiagate collusion allegations and that its credibility has collapsed is not something that most people are aware of.  However members of Congress both in the Senate and the House will be aware of it because they are briefed about it by Congressional investigators.

Not surprisingly those members of Congress who are Republicans are now becoming increasingly concerned and angry as the utterly groundless and grossly partisan nature of this investigation becomes clear, and – not before time – they are making their feelings of anger and impatience known.

There are also increasing numbers of Republicans in Congress who are starting to grasp the true scandal of the US election: that US intelligence not Russian intelligence meddled in the 2016 election, and that it did so on Hillary Clinton’s behalf, carrying out surveillance on US citizens working for the election campaign of Hillary Clinton’s opponent Donald Trump on the strength of a Dossier which Hillary Clinton’s campaign paid for and which is now discredited.

 As the New York Times notes with dismay, even Senator Lindsey Graham – no friend of Donald Trump but a trained lawyer who once served as a judge advocate in the US air force, and who is therefore someone in a good position to understand the legal implications of all this – is now calling for a second Special Counsel to be appointed to look at what was really happened during the 2016 election

As for Donald Trump, he has no reason for the moment to sack Mueller, and his lawyers are undoubtedly advising him against doing it.

Though Mueller has lost the confidence of Republicans in Congress he is still supported by the Democrats and the media, and there is still some way to go before his standing with the wider US public also collapses.  Sacking Mueller now would be premature and would simply reignite the obstruction of justice allegations and might even reopen talk of impeachment.  Far better to leave Mueller alone to continue to discredit himself, pressing on with an investigation which is looking into a scandal which is all smoke and no fire and which is going nowhere.  In the meantime doubts both about Mueller and about the conduct of the US intelligence community and the FBI during the 2016 election can only grow.  Eventually the Justice Department itself will be obliged to call a stop by bringing the Mueller probe to an end.

That is why President Trump was so relaxed about the news that Mueller has seized tens of  thousands of emails produced by the Trump transition team.

Those who complain about the way this was done are perfectly right to do so.  Though Mueller was no doubt legally entitled to the emails (save for some which for any number of reasons might be privileged) it is debatable whether they were the property of the General Services Administration which handed them over.  Even if they were Mueller should certainly have discussed the release of the emails with Trump’s lawyers first before he took possession of them.  The fact that Mueller’s spokesman has been forced to deny publicly that the seizure of the emails was unlawful is a sign of Mueller’s embarrassment. 

Incidentally the spokesman’s statement suggests that the emails might have been obtained through a court order.

When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.

(bold italics added)

These words are not unambiguous but the reference to “appropriate criminal process” may suggest that the emails were obtained as a result of an application to the court which ordered that they should be handed over.  If so then Trump’s lawyers should certainly have been informed in advance so that they could attend court and respond to it.

In any event, since – as President Trump has correctly pointed out – there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, Mueller’s haul of emails is going to avail him nothing.  Instead by seizing them without going through the proper process Mueller has taken another step which will further discredit him with Congressional Republicans. 

Trump’s comment that

it’s not looking good [for Mueller] It’s quite sad to see that. My people were very upset about it

shows how Trump is exploiting this misstep of Mueller’s to his own advantage.

I have previously said that the Russiagate scandal would eventually collapse under the weight of its own absurdity.  There is after all only so much that can be done to sustain an investigation which has no crime to investigate and no evidence of one. 

I suspect that with the confusion caused by the Flynn affair now out of the way, we are coming close to that position now.

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