Opinion

If Mueller Had the Authority of an Israeli Judicial Commission of Inquiry, Trump Would Be Toast

The claim that Trump would have won the 2016 elections without Russia’s intervention is now patently preposterous

File Photo: U.S. President Donald Trump gives a 'thumbs-up' as he walks across the tarmac during his arrival on Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base, Md, April 21, 2019.
Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

1. The most jolting chapter in Robert Mueller’s final report is the one that is drawing the least attention. For all the trees - Trump’s “collusion”, his obstruction of justice, Mueller’s decision not to charge the President with specific crimes and the impeachment proceedings now on the horizon - Congress and the U.S. media are looking away from the forest: Russia’s massive and systematic intervention in the 2016 elections.

Most of the details are known, but the overall picture is nonetheless appalling. Russia’s military intelligence carried out a wide-ranging “black ops” campaign on social media against Hillary Clinton, which reached many millions of American voters. The Kremlin set up a bogus entity on American soil, which organized scores of pro-Trump rallies. And it deployed an army of hackers that broke into numerous federal and state computers, stealing, among other things, data on voters.

>> Analysis: Netanyahu heads into eye of Mueller storm. He may repay twin brother Trump ■ Explained: Mueller submitted his report on Trump. What does it all mean?

Moscow passed on the spoils of its cyber-burglary to Wikileaks, including hundreds of thousands of emails linked to Clinton and the Democratic Party. These were leaked in order to harm Clinton when she seemed to be pulling ahead and help Trump in times of crisis. The most consequent of these was the massive release of Clinton-associated emails just hours after the Washington Post exposed Trump’s infamous “grab-'em-by-the-pussy” recording, which allowed Trump to change the campaign agenda and to escape what most Americans, including senior Republicans, viewed as a fatal coup de grace.

The results are well known. Even though Clinton garnered close to three million votes more, Trump won the Electoral College by a hair’s breadth: 80,000 votes in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan made all the difference. Under these circumstances, the assertion that Russia did not influence the final outcome and that Trump would have been elected regardless is nothing less than preposterous. The very thought that Moscow undermined American democracy and instilled the President it wanted is so disturbing that most Americans - including Trump’s worst enemies - prefer to simply ignore it.

2. Contrary to the assertions of Trump and his spinners, Muller did not absolve Trump of “collusion”. Instead, he found that “collusion” is not listed as a crime under the U.S. Criminal Code and that the ample evidence of contacts between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign - including over a hundred face to face meetings before and after the elections - did not meet the threshold of evidence needed to prove a criminal conspiracy.

As to obstruction of justice, and despite detailing Trump’s repeated efforts to close down any investigation into his ties to Russia, Mueller seems to have bowed, voluntarily or by direct order, to the Justice Department’s standing policy not to indict a sitting President.

Trump’s celebration of his supposed exoneration was nonetheless premature and his alleged victory was profoundly Pyrrhic. He failed to recognize that Mueller was killing him softly with his report. By refraining from charging Trump with a specific crime, Mueller neutralized the President’s ability to convincingly portray the Special Counsel as politically bent. And whereas an explicit indictment would have sparked intense debate and constitutional controversy, the lack thereof allowed the facts to speak for themselves. In the eyes of public opinion, at least, they were nothing less than damning.

Mueller’s mandate was limited to a determination whether any crimes had been committed. In essence, he passed the hot potato to Congress. If Mueller had been given the authority vested in an Israeli Commission of Inquiry, which can not only determine the facts but also decide on their political consequences, Trump would now be toast. Instead of railing against the injustice of it all, he would be busy packing his belongings for the movers to take from the White House.

3. Israelis having a hard time grappling with Mueller’s report can imagine how they would have reacted if it emerged that Iranian intelligence had not only hacked into Benny Gantz’s mobile phone, but that its representatives had given a direct heads up to Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign staff and that the prime minister was doing his best to quash any investigation of the crime while proposing a startling change of policy towards Tehran.

The public outcry would have been loud and unprecedented, though some things probably wouldn’t have changed: Based on their rejection of the current criminal charges against the prime minister, Netanyahu’s toadies would still be crying foul about a “political witch hunt”. Taking their cue from Republicans on Russia, they might also add that Iran isn’t really all that bad, so what’s wrong with trying to improve relations?

4. The main stumbling block to reading all 448 pages of the Mueller report is the pervasive sense of familiarity.  Most of the damning details in the report have already been exposed, published and dissected by the so-called mainstream media. Small wonder that Trump - and Netanyahu - view a free press as their mortal enemy and are bent on undermining it.