Analysis 05-31-2019


Mueller Makes Public Statement on Investigation of President

On Wednesday, Special Prosecutor Mueller made his first (and probably only) statement on his investigation of President Trump.  An observer noted that basically all he said was; “Read the report, I’m going fishing” (“going fishing” is an American idiom for retiring and not wanting anyone to bother them in the future).

Although the statement was concise legalese, there was enough for both sides to pick out phrases that justified their narrative.

Democrats focused on the fact that Mueller mentioned that some Russians had been indicted for interfering in the 2016 election.  They also focused on the statement by Mueller that he couldn’t indict a sitting president due to Department of Justice regulations that stated an indictment was unconstitutional.

Mueller also said that he couldn’t exonerate Trump for obstruction of justice – although US criminal law makes it clear that it isn’t the job of the prosecutor to exonerate – just indict or not indict.

This was enough for many Democrats.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D NY) released a statement that said, “Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond…and we do so.”

Senator Kamala Harris (D CA) tweeted, “What Robert Mueller basically did was return an impeachment referral. Now it is up to Congress to hold this president accountable. We need to start impeachment proceedings. It’s our constitutional obligation.”

However, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham released a statement via twitter saying, “Today’s statement by Mr. Mueller reinforces the findings of his report.  And as for me, the case is over.  Mr. Mueller has decided to move on and let the record speak for itself…The report shows there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and any member of the Russian government.  However, there was a systematic effort by Russia to disrupt our election.”

Here were the key points of the Mueller statement

Mueller is resigning, formally shutting down his office, and returning to private life.  This makes it clear that from his point of view, there is nothing else for his office to do.

Mueller also said he would not tell congress anything beyond what the Department of Justice (DoJ) had made public.  He made it clear he had no problem with what the Attorney General publicly released and that he had no intention of speaking publicly again.

Mueller reiterated that he was bound by DoJ regulations against charging a sitting president with a crime and therefore did not decide whether he committed a crime.  He noted that Congress has another way to address the conduct of presidents through impeachment.

Mueller also closed the door on further speculation by saying, “We will not comment on any other conclusions or hypotheticals about the president.”  He also said, “It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no resolution of a charge.”

Mueller mentioned that Russia did try to interfere with the 2016 presidential election, which he said, “deserves the attention of every American.”

Mueller said he still expects Democrats in the House to insist on his testimony.    He stated categorically, “I will not provide information beyond what is already public before Congress…The report is my testimony…I do not believe it would be appropriate for me to speak further.

Although this statement will enrage House Democrats, that implies that Mueller has no problem with the conclusions by the Attorney General.  And, as a private citizen, requiring his testimony is much harder.

There was considerable criticism that Mueller had side stepped the issue in order to support the Democratic side.  Former US Attorney Andrew McCarthy countered what Mueller said about indicting a sitting president by noting, “The guidance doesn’t say the president can never be indicted.  It says a sitting president can’t be indicted.  And, the prosecutor who has the investigation has the job of making that determination. Do we have a case or not?”

McCarthy continued, “If you decide you have a case and the Justice Department wants to invoke the guidance that says that a sitting president can’t be indicted, then so be it.  But Mueller’s job I think was to find out, do we have a prosecutable case or not?”

In a joint statement by the Justice Department and the Special Counsel’s office Wednesday evening, both offices insisted that there was no conflict.  In typical legalese, the statement said, “The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice.”

Some republicans are claiming that the vocal Democratic reaction to the Mueller statement may be designed to cover up a growing controversy about the intelligence and law enforcement involvement in spying on the Trump Campaign, in order to help the Clinton campaign.

Since the Mueller report came out saying that there is no proof of the Trump campaign colluding with the Russians, the question has been raised about how this story of collusion was put forward.

Trump supporters point out that it is now known that the Steele dossier, which was used to gain approval from a FISA judge to spy on the Trump Campaign, was paid for by the Hillary Clinton campaign.  Nor, was there probably cause, which is needed for a judge to sign a warrant giving such approval.  That’s why Attorney General Barr has stated in testimony before Congress that the FBI was spying on the Trump campaign.

This represents a serious charge that unelected officials tried to change the election results – an illegal and unconstitutional action.  Attorney General Barr has assigned US Attorney Durham to investigate the charges.

However, the real question is how this whole issue will impact the 2020 presidential election.

Although there remains a lot of talk about impeachment, Democratic leaders like Speaker of the House Pelosi oppose it.  Pelosi thinks the Democrats should campaign on issues, not just opposition to the president.

It appears that the Democrats have an uphill climb to change the minds of voters, so they vote Democratic next year.  The Gallup poll showed that Trump’s popularity shot up after the Mueller report.

A Washington Post/ABC News poll showed that the majority of likely voters – both Republican and Democrat thought the Mueller report was fair.  That means voters are unlikely to believe wild charges from Democrats.

Just as important for Democrats was the Washington Post/ABC News poll finding that 56% of Americans think Congress shouldn’t start impeachment proceedings.  In fact, a CNN poll showed that a majority of Americans (69%) think there should be an investigation into why the DoJ started an investigation of Trump in the first place.  This will give Trump and Barr the political cover to investigate the FBI and intelligence community collusion to spy on Trump.

This investigation is probably a major threat to many Democratic presidential candidates, although none are directly involved in the investigation.  All of the candidates have in some degree or another insisted that Trump is guilty and deserving of impeachment.

The issue of unelected officials spying on Americans only reinforces the Trump issue that Washington is a swamp and that the “swamp must be drained.”  A Monmouth University poll showed that 82% of Americans believe the US government is watching them.  74% believe there is a “deep state” of unelected officials determining policy.  The Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray said, “There’s an ominous feeling by Democrats and Republicans alike that a “deep state” of unelected operatives are pulling the levers of power.”

Consequently, an investigation that reveals some sort of spying on the Trump Campaign or Americans in general will only solidify Trump’s standing with the voter and hurt the Democratic challengers who are ignoring the issue.

There is also the fact that Americans are tired of the Russian collusion issue.  A Harvard/Harris poll showed that 80% of Americans want their, “congressional representatives working more on infrastructure, health care, and immigration [than] investigations of Trump.  The poll also showed that 55% of respondents say think “bias against President Trump in the FBI played a role in launching the investigations.”

As a Washington Post editorial said, “Americans don’t want Congress to impeach, but Democrats aren’t listening.”

Although opposition to Trump is the thing binding Democrats together, American voters have made it clear that they prefer legislative progress, not investigations.

The problem is that the season for legislation is practically over.  The presidential and congressional election season is nearly upon the US and once it starts, no measurable legislative progress is expected until after the election.

Talk about opposing Trump and impeaching him may play well to the hard-core Democratic base, but it doesn’t resonate with the independent voter who regularly decides elections. That means all the Congressional “swing districts” that went Democratic in 2018 are at risk of switching to Republican in 2020 (traditionally, if the incumbent president wins reelection, his party will pick up seats in the House and Senate).

That means the Democratic focus on Mueller’s statement this week only hurts them in the 2020 election.

In other words, Democrats should start looking at infrastructure legislation and stick with Mueller’s view, “Read the report, I’m going fishing.”



Treaties in the Age of Donald Trump

By Theodore R. Bromund

Heritage Foundation

May 29, 2019

When President Donald Trump said last month that the United States was dropping out of the arms trade treaty, The Washington Post sighed that it was “the latest illustration of his aversion to international agreements and world governance.” Obviously, Trump doesn’t like some treaties. But would it surprise you to learn that he’s approved only one fewer treaty in his first two years than President Barack Obama did in his last two? Here’s what Trump’s done — and what it means. So far, the Senate has ratified and Trump has approved six treaties since March 2017. Now, the point of treaties is not to sign lots of them. The point is to sign good treaties. This isn’t a competition between Trump and Obama. Still, Trump has approved six treaties that the Senate has ratified. That doesn’t sound like a president who’s averse to international agreements. It sounds like a president who likes some treaties and not others.

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Trump Knows What He Is Doing on Iran

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

May 30, 2019

Perhaps it’s only natural that the media indulges in some hyperventilating when talking about foreign policy and volatile actors such as Iran. But it doesn’t help. It’s time for fewer histrionics and more sober assessments. Deconstructing the current head-butting between Tehran and the White House is a case in point. For starters, Washington is no better at predicting war under President Donald Trump than it was the results of the 2016 elections. On at least three occasions now in the nascent era of Trump, everyone has been beating the war drums except the parties that were supposed to be going to war. In 2017, when Trump called Kim “little rocket man,” there were warnings to head to the bomb shelters. More prudent assessments held the prospects for serious escalation looked unlikely. Fast forward, and we find the United States and North Korea holding serious negotiations for over a year—the dire warnings of the inevitable escalation to war long forgotten.

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Trump Gets an “F” for Libya

By James Jay Carafano

Heritage Foundation

May 24, 2019

Getting grumpy over the administration’s Libya policy is a just cause. There is no nostalgia for President Barack Obama’s “lead from behind” policy that left the country in ruins, an American compound in flames, and a U.S. ambassador and other brave Americans dead. But let’s be honest, President Donald Trump hasn’t done much better at making things better. This is not just about grading presidents. There are good reasons to get U.S. policy for Libya right. Trump gets an “A” for his instincts on the Middle East. This region is strategically important to the United States. That said, the U.S. is not the region’s babysitter. What is needed is sustainable regional security solutions that deal with the twin great dangers: the destabilizing actions of Iran and organized campaigns by transnational Islamist terrorists.

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Win, Hold, Fold, or Run? Afghanistan in the Spring of 2019

By Anthony H. Cordesman

Center for Strategic and International Studies

May 13, 2019

The United States currently is pursuing a peace settlement that so far excludes any formal participation by the Afghan government. Its FY2020 budget request does not call for major change in the U.S. posture in Afghanistan, but press reports indicate that the U.S. is considering 50% cuts in its Embassy staff and would like to make major cuts in its military forces and effort. The Afghan government has made its own attempts to define a peace settlement but remains deeply divided and faces a Presidential election in September 2019 that raises serious questions about Afghanistan’s future leadership and unity. Afghan security forces are making progress in some areas, but no reliable open source data is available on many aspects of Afghan capacity and no reliable estimate exists of government control and influence over given Districts and the Afghan population. Afghan progress in improving governance and the living standards of the Afghan people seems to be grinding slowly at best, and Afghan ability to meet U.S. demands for improved security forces, governance, and economic progress remains unclear.

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Erdogan’s Failure on the Nile

By Soner Cagaptay

Washington Institute

Spring 2019

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is one of the most consequential leaders in the history of the Turkish republic. Over the past two decades, he has gradually parted ways with Kamal Ataturk’s West-centric and inward-looking foreign policy model, instead embracing an activist and neo-imperialist foreign policy. He has accordingly pivoted Turkey to the Middle East to build influence over the politics of the region. Often dubbed “neo-Ottomanist,” Erdogan’s foreign policy toward the region is informed by his belief that Turkey can rise as a great power if it becomes the leader in the Middle East first.  At home, Erdogan has consolidated power while defanging the secularist Turkish military and, through that, undermining Ataturk’s secularist legacy in the country. In a set of trials between 2008 and 2011, collectively dubbed Ergenekon, Erdogan locked up nearly a quarter of Turkey’s generals with the help of prosecutors and police aligned with the movement of political Islamist Fethullah Gulen, his ally at the time. In the summer of 2011, the Turkish military’s top brass resigned en masse, recognizing that Erdogan (and Gulen) had won. Around that time in 2010, Erdogan passed a referendum with help from his allies in the Gulen movement, which gave him the prerogative to appoint most judges to the country’s high courts without a confirmation process.

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Palestinians Need to Get Real About Israel

By Walter Russell Mead

Hudson Institute

May 20, 2019

As Palestinian officials nervously await the Trump administration’s peace plan, one fundamental reality shapes their long and bitter contest with Israel. Diplomatically, economically, militarily, Israel has never been stronger than it is today. By contrast, the Palestinian cause has never been in worse shape. Neither Hamas, which alternates between firing rockets and begging Israel to admit to Gaza the supplies it needs to stay in power, nor the Palestinian Authority, which is compromised by corruption and divided by factionalism, can find a viable policy either to defeat the Israelis or to make peace with them. One result—as I saw on a recent visit sponsored by the Philos Project, a nonprofit Middle East engagement organization—is that Palestinians, especially young people, are increasingly giving up on having a state of their own. Instead they favor a “one-state solution”—a single, binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Yet in meetings with senior Palestinian Authority officials and political observers, it was clear that this is more a cry of despair than a serious political program. A Palestinian return to the policy of rejecting the two-state solution may spur American campus activists to new denunciations of “Israeli apartheid,” but it won’t help the Palestinian cause in the real world.

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