Robert S. Mueller III is, at the age of 74, starting his literary career a little late in life. His authorial debute, "The Mueller Report," is the most hotly anticipated piece of writing in decades, certainly since whenever George R. R. Martin last released a "Game of Thrones" novel. Indeed Mueller may not even have set pen to paper at all had it not been for his successor at the FBI James Comey. We have Comey to thank for the genesis of "The Mueller Report." Former FBI Director James Comey set us up deliciously for "The Mueller Report" with his breathlessly atmospheric descriptions in the famous memos that he typed in 2017 after meetings with President* Trump. Comey's descriptions of the "small oval table" where he and the President* sat alone for dinner (Comey and Trump are 6'8" and 6'4" respectively) and engaged in queasily erotic psychological warfare are pretty hard to top. "(T)he President said 'I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.' I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed." Like the pretty secretary who realizes with growing dismay that she will probably not be able to leave her boss's office without being molested, Comey sits wide-eyed with fear in front of the Commander in Chief*. Comey's entire future hangs in the balance, his position as the nation's top lawman gutted and his masculinity withered through this odd, sexualized encounter with the President*. Comey's description of his dinner with Trump is a clever and emotionally-taut inversion of the literary trope of female subjugation to masculine power. It would be hard for Mueller to top THAT!
Unfortunately Mueller does not top Comey. Not by a long shot. "The Mueller Report" is a far cry from Comey's excellent memos. While Comey's memos are concise and suspenseful, Mueller's report is flat, grey, endless, and achingly disappointing. Blocks of grey print interrupted by blocks of the purest black ink marked with the letters "H.O.M." or "Harm to Ongoing Matter." These redactions, put forward by Attorney General Bill Barr, are ridiculous. On the one hand the blocks of black give a nice visual touch to the otherwise unexciting "Mueller Report" and bestow a (probably empty) promise that more explosive material hides behind the solid black ink. Barr's bars, however, don't hide anything really in most instances. In one laughable instance of redaction, Barr inks out a portion of Trump's interview with the "New York Post " that was printed in November 2018. On page 128 of Volume II of "The Mueller Report," Trump is quoted as saying "Manafort, Corsi (REDACTED). It's actually very brave." Why is that redacted? Surely I can just look up the original interview online, and the original interview is probably uncensored. Sure enough, after Googling "Trump interview, new york post, november 2018," the original quote popped up on my phone screen. "Manafort, Corsi and Roger Stone. It's actually very brave." Now why would Barr trouble to redact something that was so easy to find on the internet? I realize that Stone has an upcoming trial so technically everything Stone-related is an "ongoing matter,"..... but when the information can be found so easily elsewhere why bother to redact it in "The Mueller Report" in the first place?
"The Mueller Report" starts out with "Volume I" which deals with the investigation into possible coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign in 2016. The information widely released to the media was that no evidence was found linking the Trump campaign to Russian Intelligence's illegal attack on the DNC server where thousands of emails were stolen and then released publicly in an attempt to harm the Hillary Clinton campaign and help Trump. "No evidence," however, is not exactly the same as an exoneration. As Mueller notes on page 10 of Volume I of "The Mueller Report," "(T)he Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated- including some associated with the Trump Campaign- deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communication records." Later on in the report Mueller identifies the dirty deleters as Paul Manafort, Steven Bannon, and Erik Prince. Was there collusion? Who knows. A whole lot of stuff got deleted. In other words, but their emails.
Volume I details how the Russian reached out multiple times to the Trump campaign in 2015- 2016 and the Trump campaign eagerly accepted their help. Did the Trump campaign know about the coordinated hack on the DNC server? Mueller and his team don't manage to find a lot evidence. This is mostly due to the diligent deleting of Manafort and Bannon. At one point the Mueller team finds a promising lead when an associate of Michael Flynn's is found to have documents on his laptop that are the DNC hacked emails.... and they were downloaded on 10/02/2016 which was BEFORE the hacked emails were released by Wikileaks publicly. At last, the smoking gun! The Trump campaign DID coordinate with the Russians to hack the DNC! Alas, like every other plot point in "The Mueller Report," this story goes nowhere. The Flynn associate states that he downloaded the files after Wikileaks released them publicly but due to some weird quirk with his laptop all the downloaded files have the date 10/02/2016 regardless of when they were actually downloaded. The Mueller team takes his laptop and downloads their own files onto the computer and yes, sure enough, the newly-downloaded files are dated 10/02/2016 even though they were downloaded in 2018. The Mueller team is forced to return the laptop and look elsewhere.
Volume I of "The Mueller Report" details the sophisticated social media campaign of the Russian IRA (Internet Research Agency). It is peculiar to keep seeing the "IRA" referenced throughout this volume because you wonder "What? The Irish were involved too?" But no. The "Internet Research Agency" was a Russian agency affiliated with Russian military intelligence which weaponized social media against American voters. The IRA didn't just push Trump on voters. The IRA was also responsible for promoting dissatisfaction with the Democrats among "Bernie Bros" and black and Latinx Americans. Even when the IRA knew that they could not get minority voters to vote for Trump, the IRA did manage successfully to promote a "They're both equally bad" message to potential Democratic voters. The IRA pushed voter apathy and encouraged potential Hillary Clinton voters to just stay home. The IRA founded twitter handles like "TEN_GOP" (stands for the Tennessee GOP but is not actually affiliated with the Tennessee Republican Party) which tweeted anti-Clinton propaganda which was later re-tweeted by Trump campaign staff including Kellyanne Conway and Donald Trump Jr. (Mueller found no evidence that the Trump GOP knew that "TEN_GOP" was a Russian-affiliated account and not just a pro-Trump account).
Volume I of "The Mueller Report" does have moments of comedy. The deeply stupid Michael Cohen had multiple phone conversations with a "Dmitry Klokov" whom Cohen assumed was a Russian Olympic weightlifter by the same name. Cohen's conclusion was not because Klokov told him so but because Cohen googled "Dmitry Klokov" and went with the first name that popped up on his search results. Actually, the man Cohen was speaking to was a completely different Dmitry Klokov. As Mueller dryly observes in a footnote: "During his interviews with the Office, Cohen still appeared to believe that the Klokov he spoke with was that Olympian."
Volume I of "The Mueller Report" also has moments of sheer fear, like when Mueller details on page 37 how "Officers from Unit 74455 (Russian military intelligence) separately hacked computers belonging to state boards of elections, secretaries of state, and U.S. companies that supplied software and other technology related to the administration of U.S. elections." On page 51 Mueller once again states how Russia was able to "gain access to the network of at least one Florida county government." Statements like these makes the reader doubt the validity of the results of the 2016 election. How strange that the polls were reliable only for non-swing states like Illinois and Alabama.... but were unreliable for all the swing states like Florida and Michigan. Indeed other important elections like the Florida gubernatorial election where the top-polling anti-Russian candidate Andrew Gillum mysteriously lost to the pro-Putin candidate DeSantis despite polling ahead of DeSantis all year suddenly make a lot more sense when examined in context of Florida's hacked voting machines.
Volume II of "The Mueller Report" is a comparatively easier read. Volume II just deals with the President* trying to obstruct justice multiple times and failing because unsung hero Don McGahn (whom Mueller is clearly fond of) simply refused to carry out the White House's panicking orders. Unlike in Volume I, the evidence of wrongdoing (obstruction of justice) in Volume II is clear, obvious, and well-documented. One of the most heinous (and illegal) acts that Mueller uncovers is that the White House encouraged Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, a crime that could land Trump with three to five years in the clink. The online newspaper "The Daily Beast" broke this news before "The Mueller Report" came out. Oddly, Mueller went public to dispute the story.... yet his report shows that "The Daily Beast" was right. The White House did on multiple occasions review and approve Michael Cohen's false testimony to Congress. As page 143 of Volume II of "The Mueller Report" shows, Cohen's phone records showed multiple phone calls before Cohen testified to Congress which corroborated Cohen stating that the White House had asked him to lie to Congress. "Cohen recalled that the President's personal counsel said 'his client' appreciated Cohen, that Cohen should stay on message and not contradict the President, that there was no need to muddy the water, and that it was time to move on....... (T)his Office sought to speak with the President's personal counsel about these conversations with Cohen, but counsel declined, citing potential privilege concerns." "The Daily Beast" got it right.
If there is any hero who emerges from "The Mueller Report," it is not Robert Mueller (who comes off as pedantic and weak, throwing down analysis after analysis about why Trump isn't getting charged despite ample evidence of obstruction) but White House counsel Don McGahn. It is clear that Mueller has a lot of respect for McGahn and after reading McGahn's interview with the Special Counsel it is hard for the reader to not be impressed by McGahn's moral character. On page 85-86 of Volume II of "The Mueller Report," Mueller states "McGahn was concerned about having any role in asking the Acting Attorney General to fire the Special Counsel because he had grown up in the Reagan era and wanted to be more like Judge Bork and not "Saturday Night Massacre Bork." McGahn stood up to Trump in a way that not even the towering (in the literal sense only, alas) James Comey could not. After Trump repeatedly asked McGahn to fire Robert Mueller, McGahn refuses, offers to resign, and then gives his full testimony to Robert Mueller. When Trump later tries to gaslight McGahn ("The President asked McGahn 'Did I say the word "fire"?' McGahn responded,'What you said is "Call Rod (Rosenstein), tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can't be the Special Counsel."' The President responded, 'I never said that.'" (page 117 Volume II of "The Mueller Report")).. McGahn isn't buying it.
In the end Mueller brings no charges against Trump or Don Jr. His reasons for not charging the president are frustrating. DOJ protocal is that a sitting president shouldn't be indicted. But the real reasons for Mueller not crossing the Rubicon with indictments is that Mueller is in his early seventies. Mueller served as a Marine in Vietnam and had a distinguished but stressful career as head of the FBI. Robert Mueller is also the father of two daughters with his wife of fifty years. One of his daughters is severely disabled with spina bifida and Mueller early in his career had to move around a lot in order for his daughter to get the treatment she needed. If anyone has served our country well, it is Robert Mueller. If anyone deserves a relaxing retirement, it is Robert Mueller. And yet Mueller was yanked out of retirement and made to head a long and exhausting investigation that spanned across the globe and entangled many powerful and dangerous individuals. Mueller worked his investigation while his name was dragged across the mud by the right wing media and Republican punks like Jacob Wohl conspired to smear Mueller with false rape charges. Also, and perhaps equally stressfully, the left put Mueller on a pedestal, portraying him as Captain American and Superman. "Save this country Robert Mueller, it's all on you!" Any man would crack under these pressures and it is a huge credit to Mueller that he kept it together and finished his work. But Mueller is tired. Bringing charges, well-founded though they may be, against a sitting President will take years more work and exhaustion, years more of Mueller being in the crosshairs of an increasingly power-mad and desperate President. Most frustratingly of all, the people who wish for Mueller to bring down Trump are the same people who refused to vote for the one woman who could defeat Trump in 2016. How many Jill Stein voters wailed for Mueller to bring down Trump? How many "Oh, I'm not voting. I can't vote for the lesser of two evils" were stated by people who then, without a single hint of irony, shamed Robert Mueller two years later for not going through the exhausting and possibly impossible process of bringing indictments against a president? If we could not do the minimum effort of voting for Hillary Clinton, why should we have any ground to stand on when we ask Mueller to sacrifice the rest of his retirement, maybe the rest of his life, fighting court battles against Trump?
And honestly, in the end, I think this is Robert Mueller's position too. He has done his job. Now it is time for America to do ours. You want Trump gone? Vote. Protest, Register voters, Raise funds. Get the word out. But for God sake leave Robert Mueller alone. He's done his work. Now it's time for us to do ours.
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