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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.

Meet Ian Martin, an English Professor from Glasgow who is now head of Communications for Eni's International Resources. Approaching his work in the same way he used to hold his lectures, Ian is dedicated to listening and making people around him comfortable. Having working in both Milan and London, Ian utilizes his ability to communicate in different languages and cultures to prepare Eni's global messaging strategy. "Communication is a transfer of humanity," he says, and his job is as much centered around people as it as around language.

Watch Ian's human approach to communications on the most recent episode of Faces of Eni.

How to capture the essence of this incredible, terrible year in a few short words and without using profanity? It's not easy.

Thankfully, the dictionary website Merriam-Webster.com has released its list of most heavily searched words of 2020, and they tell the story of an historic year in US politics and the life of our planet. Here's a sample.

The top word, unsurprisingly, was "Pandemic," a disease outbreak that covers a wide area and afflicts lots of people. In 2020, the coronavirus crisis hit every region of the world, triggering a public health, economic, and political emergency on a geographic scale our planet has never experienced. Differing responses to that problem defined the politics (and geopolitics) of 2020.

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While recent news from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca on the efficacy of their respective COVID vaccines is encouraging, it has also given rise to bidding wars between wealthy countries trying to secure the largest supply of the new drugs for their citizens. Meanwhile, many governments in emerging market economies, where healthcare infrastructure is generally weaker, are worried they'll be kicked to the back of the line in the global distribution process. Indeed, history bears out their concerns: while a lifesaving HIV treatment hit shelves in the West in the mid-1990s, for example, it took years to become widely in Africa, which saw some of the worst HIV outbreaks in the world. But here's the catch: even if wealthy countries manage to obtain large supplies of vaccines to immunize their populations, the interconnected nature of the global economy means that no one will really be out of the woods until we all are. Here's a snapshot of how many COVID vaccines select countries have already purchased.

Afghanistan's small breakthrough: For months, disagreements over a range of political issues have hamstrung the intra-Afghan peace talks brokered by the Trump administration that aim to bridge the years-long conflict between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But this week, a significant breakthrough was made on the principles and procedures governing the talks, that, experts say, will help push negotiations to the next phase. One key advance is agreement on the official name of the Afghan government, an issue that stalled talks earlier this year. Still, progress is fragile. Taliban violence and efforts to seize territory have only increased since the militants and the US reached a deal in February on a blueprint for an American troop withdrawal. And the Trump administration says it aims to pull out all but 2,500 US troops by mid-January, whether the Taliban have kept their end of the deal or not. What's more, while this week's development puts the parties one step closer to an eventual power-sharing agreement, it's unclear whether the incoming Biden administration will even honor the Trump administration's deal with the Taliban.

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Two weeks ago, Russia secured a deal to build a naval base in Sudan, its first new military facility in Africa since the end of the Cold War. The accord is a major milestone in Moscow's wider push to regain influence, and income, on a continent where the Kremlin was once a major player.

But with the ideological and military contests of the Cold War long over, what is Moscow doing in Africa today?

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Reasons for Hope: COVID and the Coming Year. Watch on Friday. Dec 4 2020 12 noon - 1 pm ET

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