MUELLER MUSINGS: WHO WON AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR 2020

MUELLER MUSINGS: WHO WON AND WHAT IT MEANS FOR 2020

After 22 months, 34 indictments, and half a million articles about Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller's III's investigation into possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia, the headline judgment came down to just four pages on a Sunday afternoon.

In a letter of that length summarizing the investigation, US Attorney General William Barr said Mueller's team had not established coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government ahead of the 2016 election. That's not quite an exoneration for President Trump, but it certainly plays well politically: "No Collusion!"

Barr also wrote that the Special Prosecutor had declined to issue judgment on whether the president tried to criminally obstruct the investigation.

For a top notch analysis of the letter's legal implications, we refer you to this piece by the legal eagles of Lawfare, here. From our perspective, the politics look like this:


Trump won. Yes, Trump and his family still face ongoing investigations of their businesses, personal finances, and non-profit organizations. But the bottom line is: collusion was the main focus in the Mueller investigation and the political circus that surrounded it. The fact that Trump appears to have beaten that rap will, for better or worse, now overshadow all else.

Expect Trump to play the vindication card shrewdly and ceaselessly for the next 18 months as he pursues re-election. Democrats will have to decide how much further to push the "Russiagate" line of attack. They, and the American people, will certainly want to see the full report – which could contain politically damning information about Trump and his associates. But the political evaporation of the "collusion" angle makes it harder, and riskier, to try to make other stuff stick.

Institutions worked. For nearly two years, a special prosecutor investigated a sitting president – one who famously disdains institutional checks and balances – and he completed his work largely unhindered.

Score this as a big win for the rule of law at a time when Trump's unconventional presidency has raised all kinds of questions about the resilience of American institutions.

But… caveat number one: under Trump's withering attacks, the FBI's image suffered with Republican voters, while gaining with Democrats. Now that Mueller's findings (seemingly) went the GOP's way, will that change? A situation in which law enforcement comes to be seen constantly politicized by one or the other of America's political tribes is a bad thing in the long run.

And… caveat number two: there's already lots of hand-wringing about whether "the media" (a vague term we don't like much) has lost credibility for overhyping "Russiagate." A free, functional, and broadly trusted media is an indispensable democratic institution too.

Looking ahead to 2020

Don't forget, the Mueller investigation did show – and quite definitively – that Russia deployed a social media strategy to interfere in the 2016 election with the aim of helping Trump.

There are two important things to say about that. First, the Kremlin, and others, will be eying the opportunity to meddle again in 2020 – which opens up the question: what is the US government prepared to do about the vulnerabilities of US elections to meddling and manipulation by foreign or domestic actors?

Second, people will argue forever about whether Russian meddling is what enabled President Trump to win. The truth is that we will never know. What we do know, however, is that the social polarization that put Trump in a position to contend at all in 2016 – the divides between urban and rural, liberal and conservative, and white and non-white America – haven't gone away as the US heads into the 2020 election season.

The clear signal: As 2020 approaches, domestic polarization is still a whole lot more important than foreign interference.

Ken Burns discusses Muhammad Ali's background and how the journey of boxing's greatest champion is just as relevant today—in sport, culture and beyond.

"He is speaking to us with a kind of force and clarity...that to me is just so enduring." - Ken Burns

No country in the Western Hemisphere is more closely associated with disaster and misery than the Caribbean nation of Haiti. Its latest upheaval centers on news that the country's top prosecutor wants Haiti's prime minister to answer questions about the murder of the president in July. Haiti is again locked in a power struggle among competing factions within its ruling elite.

Why is Haiti still so poor and disaster-prone?

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For Michael Chertoff, former US secretary of Homeland Security from 2005 to 2009, the fact that America has not experienced a single attack by foreign terrorists since 9/11 proves that the US was "successful" in its strategy to prevent terrorism. That "was not [an] accident and there was a deterrent effect to be honest — had we been lax, more would have tried." Although he admits the US government wasn't transparent enough about the intelligence it was collecting, Chertoff credits US intelligence agencies with helping to foil the plot to blow up airplanes mid-air from Heathrow to the US in 2006. The US mission in Iraq, or what came after was not clearly thought out, according to Michael Chertoff, who served as the Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush. The Iraq war made it difficult to focus on the US mission in Afghanistan and absorbed resources that could have been used more effectively elsewhere, he said.

Watch the full episode: Is America safer since 9/11?

Listen: In a frank interview on the GZERO World podcast, António Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General, speaks with Ian Bremmer at the UN ahead of the annual General Assembly week. Guterres discusses COVID, climate, the US-China rift, and the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan, and does not mince words when it comes to the dire state of the world. "We are standing at the edge of an abyss," Guterres warns. COVID is "defeating" the global community and a climate catastrophe is all but assured without drastic action. Amidst this unprecedented peril, there remains a startling lack of trust among nations. And yet, there is still hope.

Subscribe to the GZERO World Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, or your preferred podcast platform to receive new episodes as soon as they're published.


"Men make history and not the other way around. In periods where there is no leadership, society stands still." — Harry S. Truman

The former US president's warning feels particularly prescient as world leaders prepare to gather at the 76th United National General Assembly in New York City, the first such in-person event in over 18 months. The importance of apt leadership in determining societies' ability to cope — and survive — has been on full display since COVID-19 enveloped the globe, decimating communities and killing some 4.5 million people.

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As the 76th UN General Assembly gets underway, dealing with the pandemic is still the top priority for world leaders. But for John Frank, vice president of UN Global Affairs at Microsoft, COVID is not the only major challenge the world faces today.

One of them — included in the UN Secretary-General's new Common Agenda for strong, inclusive pandemic recovery — is a different way to measure economic growth beyond the traditional productivity-led GDP model by taking more into account the cost of pollution, one of the main causes of climate change.

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For UN Secretary-General António Guterres, the pandemic has made the world even more divided than it was before COVID. That's especially true on climate, in his view, because rich and poor countries simply don't trust each other anymore. If we want COP26 to succeed, Guterres says we must rebuild that trust — or face the consequences of inaction. "If you are on the verge of an abyss, you must be careful about your next step." Watch his interview with Ian Bremmer on the latest episode of GZERO World.

"Pandemic" was the most used word of 2020. "Delta" looks set to inherit this year's title.

Vaccination rates are ticking up slowly. Governments aren't talking to each other enough. Parts of the world are back to normal, while others are still locked down.

Have we actually made any progress since the COVID-19 outbreak?


Unfinished Business: Is the World Really Building Back Better?

Wednesday, September 22nd, 11am ET/ 8am PT

Our speakers:

Special appearance by António Guterres, UN Secretary-General.

Visit gzeromedia.com/globalstage to watch on the day of the event.

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UNGA 76: Vaccines, climate, crises

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UN Chief: Still time to avert climate “abyss”

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