Robert Mueller’s most important accomplishment

“The special counsel’s Russia investigation has a lot to show for its 12 months of work, but one feat stands out.”

From The New Republic:

Americans are drawn to bold figures who rise above politics and clean up Washington. Trump played to that cultural bias during the campaign, portraying himself as an outsider whose wealth would insulate him from corruption and empower him to “drain the swamp.” But it’s Mueller, if anyone, who fits this cultural archetype. Over the past twelve months, the former FBI director has upheld the best traditions of the American civil service, rightly becoming an icon for the rule of law in an era when the concept itself is under siege.

One of the most startling things about Mueller’s inquiry is how rapidly it has advanced. Patrick Fitzgerald, the last high-profile special prosecutor to vex a presidency, went silent for almost two years after his appointment in 2003 to investigate who leaked the identity of covert CIA operative Valerie Plame. (He dramatically resurfaced to announce charges against Scooter Libby, whom Trump pardoned last month in what many saw as a veiled threat to Mueller. Fitzgerald recently joined former FBI Director James Comey’s legal team.)

By comparison, Mueller’s investigation has been action packed. He’s brought charges against 19 people to date in the past six months. Thirteen of them are Russians, effectively beyond Mueller’s reach. The other six defendants aren’t so lucky. He’s secured plea agreements from former national security advisor Michael Flynn, former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates, and former Trump foreign-policy aide George Papadopoulos, all of whom have agreed to cooperate in exchange for lighter sentencing. Richard Pinedo pleaded guilty to supplying Russians with bank account numbers, while Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan received a 30-day sentence for lying to investigators. The trial of Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, is expected to begin this summer.

Mueller’s primary charge is to investigate the extent of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. In February, he brought a series of indictments against Russian nationals and companies for conspiracy and wire fraud-related crimes. That indictment described a modest but effective campaign to exploit American racial and cultural divisions in an effort to undermine Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and bolster Trump’s. It’s impossible to measure the impact of this campaign, but Mueller has done a valuable service by mapping the extent of Russian influence operations on social media, some of which had been previously reported by news outlets.

It’s harder to assess unfinished portions of Mueller’s work. The special counsel has yet to announce charges connected to the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails. He hasn’t tipped his hand on what he’s learned about the Trump campaign’s interactions with Moscow during the election. And he hasn’t indicated what conclusions he’s reached about whether Trump committed obstruction of justice by firing FBI Director James Comey last May.

From what’s publicly known, however, Mueller appears to be pursuing these questions with all appropriate zeal. Trump campaign aide Michael Caputo, after an interview with the special counsel’s office last month, told CNN that his questioners “know more about the Trump campaign than anyone who ever worked there.” He also indicated that Mueller’s team interrogated him about Russian collusion. “The Senate and the House are net fishing,” Caputo told the network. “The special counsel is spearfishing. They know what they are aiming at and are deadly accurate.” […]

It’s no surprise that Trump, who is patently insecure and hounded by doubts about his legitimacy as president, would feel uncomfortable about a special counsel scrutinizing him and his inner circle. But nobody else should. Americans can instead take pride that they live in a society where even a president must obey the criminal-justice process. Mueller’s investigation is the clearest possible expression of a fundamental democratic principle: No man is above the law.

Read the whole thing …

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