The Mueller Report: Questions, Answered and Unanswered

The Mueller Report: Questions, Answered and Unanswered

The release of the redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's confidential "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election," has addressed important questions and left others unanswered. (A public version of the report can be seen here).

Here's our take on where this story is headed:


Are there revelations in the report that enough people might consider evidence of "high crimes and misdemeanors" to add political pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move toward impeachment?

Possibly.

The Mueller report asserts that the special counsel's team did not find evidence that President Trump or anyone associated with his campaign helped the Russians interfere in the election, and Attorney General William Barr has ruled that Trump will not be prosecuted for obstruction of Mueller's investigation.

But impeachment is a political, not a legal, process.

In fact, on the question of the Trump campaign's coordination with Russia, Mueller wrote the investigation was "materially impaired" by witnesses who lied, refused to testify, deleted emails, or used encrypted apps to communicate. As a result, Mueller added this crucial comment: "The Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report."

On the question of obstruction of justice, Mueller notes on page 182 of the report that "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state… We are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Further, the report states that "we concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice." Many Democratic lawmakers will view that as an invitation, maybe an exhortation, to act.

Pelosi has worked hard in recent weeks to beat back pressure from Democrats to push for impeachment because she believes such a move would damage her party politically. But there are many details in the Mueller report that will make that more difficult.

Where is Robert Mueller?

During his press conference before the report's release, Barr said, "I have no objection to Bob Mueller personally testifying" before Congress. House Democrats will subpoena his testimony, so it appears the world will finally hear directly from the Mueller report's lead author.

Does the report include specifics of Russian interference in the 2016 US election that can help the US (and other countries) safeguard the integrity of future elections?

More important than the fate of any particular president is the integrity of the elections that elevate them.

The Mueller report asserts that the Russian government interfered "in sweeping and systematic fashion" with the 2016 US presidential election. It details efforts by organizations affiliated with the Russian government and military to create discord inside the United States by using the Internet and social media to inject disinformation into the American political bloodstream. It also describes how they stole documents and emails and used both Russian outlets and the transparency website Wikileaks to publish them on the Internet.

Attorney General Barr said on Thursday that a select bipartisan group of US lawmakers will have access to a version of the report in which counterintelligence-related redactions have been removed. The details of Russian interference will allow lawmakers to address future threats and to pressure the Trump administration to help.

But Russia is not the only actor using these tools, and the US is far from the only target. All elections are increasingly vulnerable to disinformation campaigns that originate outside their borders—and, increasingly, from inside them, as well. We can't know how many specifics of these findings US intelligence agencies will share with their counterparts in other countries.

The Test for Rule of Law

The broader unanswered question is how well American political institutions will respond to the series of noisy political and legal confrontations we can expect in coming months. Democrats will file suit to ask courts to order the release of all sorts of documents related to Donald Trump—on the Mueller report as well as other investigations of the president, his election campaign, his businesses, and his White House. Trump will do all he can to thwart these efforts.

Will most Americans accept that courts have based their rulings on the law rather than on perceived political motivations? Will the president and his opponents accept the legitimacy of these rulings and comply with them? Public polarization intensified by the 2020 election campaign won't help.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

More Show less

Listen: Stanford historian Niall Ferguson joins Ian Bremmer on the GZERO World podcast to talk about the geopolitics of disaster. Throughout human history we seem to be unable to adequately prepare for catastrophes (natural or human-caused) before they strike. Why is that? And as we emerge from the greatest calamity of our lifetimes in the COVID-19 pandemic and look to the plethora of crises that climate change has and will cause, what can we do to lessen the blow?

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.

Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

More Show less

In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

More Show less

When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

More Show less

YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

More Show less

Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

More Show less

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter, Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal

GZERO World with Ian Bremmer. Watch episodes now

GZEROMEDIA

Subscribe to GZERO Media's newsletter: Signal