JAMES CALABRESI ’20
When former Federal Bureau of Investigation Chief Robert S Mueller III was assigned to lead the Special Counsel in investigating the surprising connections revealed in the Steele dossier between Donald Trump’s campaign for president and Russia, Republicans remained confident that the man who headed the FBI under George W Bush would conduct the investigation impartially and conclusively. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) the chair of the House Oversight Committee said Mr. Mueller, “has a strong reputation for independence, and comes with the right credentials for this job.” Similarly, his then-counterpart in the House, Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) of the House Oversight Committee, called Mueller “a great selection” with “impeccable credentials.”
Since these early May days, when the stories of Mueller were buzzing about – though spotted with questions concerning Mueller’s friendship with James Comey – the investigation has brought to light new, perilous news for President Trump. On Monday, Oct. 30, Mr. Mueller issued his first round of indictments: first to Paul Manafort, former Trump Campaign manager; then to Rick Gates, Manafort’s assistant; and finally to George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide.
Since the nascent days of the Trump Presidency, when determination to uphold the law was at its best following the Comey firing, much has changed. Of the Republicans quoted earlier, Jason Chaffetz no longer serves as chairman – he resigned in protest over House members’ salaries. Chairman Grassley has stated that, “all I know at this point is the president should let the Special Counsel do it’s job” and House Speaker Paul Ryan has responded by confirming that business in Congress will be continuing as normal. This is likely a way of reassuring GOP mega-donors that a tax relief plan is soon to be finished. If ever we have arrived at a seriously presidency-threatening moment for Donald Trump, and there have been a few good contenders, that time is now. This news comes as tension builds surrounding President Trump’s ability to fire counselor Mueller, a possibility that Republicans and right-wing media have raised in recent conversations with alarming frequency. Since the indictments, right wing media, including Fox News, has consistently played down or simply not aired the developments of the investigation.
In response to the charges filed, Mr. Papadopoulos pled guilty to one count of lying to FBI agents, in contrast to Manafort and Gates, who pled “not guilty” to all charges. Many consider Mr. Papadopoulos’s plea to be far more interesting than one might initially suspect. Even as Sarah Sanders of the White House responded to the controversy by dismissing Papadopoulos as a campaign “volunteer,” the Mueller charge against Papadopoulos alleged that the plan was for someone “low level” to visit Russia as to not send a signal. This new information puts pressure on Attorney General Jeff Sessions, whose portfolio on the campaign included foreign policy directives. Were Sessions’ previous statements deemed to be insufficient in standing up to this new evidence by the investigation, Sessions could be forced to resign. As the world eye now turns back to our egotistical president, pressing issues are sidelined, from continued renewed conflict between Palestinian and Israeli forces to the endless war and starvation in Yemen.
While President Trump initially praised the Mueller appointment by saying “As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know—there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity.” Now he sings a different tune, tweeting since the indictments were leveled: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign. But why aren’t Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????” “….Also, there is NO COLLUSION!” Since the announcement on Sunday before the indictments were to be issued, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, has since flown to Saudi Arabia.
In this era of constant strife, accountability, which must be a primary concern for public officials in any democracy, feels more and more frayed. For the average reader, it is hard to get why one should care about “who said what to whom” in meetings and emails from over a year ago. But the direction of the evidence is straightforward and will pillory the Trump Administration if Manafort, Gates, or any new perpetrator pleads guilty to any more charges. To put the worst-and increasingly likely- conclusion up front, a backchannel of lawyers and aides asked a foreign country to help win an election reserved by, of, and for the people of the United States of America. That’s treason.
JAMES CALABRESI ’20