Three questions about the Mueller Report

Three questions about the Mueller Report

Tomorrow, Attorney General William Barr is expected to release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's confidential "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election," shedding new light on his nearly two-year probe into possible coordination between Russia and President Trump and his campaign. The Department of Justice will release a public version on the special counsel's website.

Here are three questions to ponder as you digest the news:


1- Are there details in the report that shed new light on the specifics of foreign interference in the 2016 US election, revelations that can help the US and other countries safeguard the integrity of future elections?

The Mueller report is unlikely to reveal anything that US intelligence officials don't already know about Russian interference, and details that are unknown to most members of Congress are almost certain to be redacted. But if lawmakers gain access to parts of the report that reveal the specifics of a foreign government's election interference strategies and techniques, they can increase pressure on the president to take actions to address the vulnerabilities they reveal.

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. If new details of past interference, or attempted interference, are made public, or at least shared privately with other intelligence agencies, the knowledge gained can protect future elections in other countries from different threats than those facing the US today.

2- 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?

Attorney General William Barr wrote in his four-page letter to Congress on the principal conclusions of the Mueller investigation that "the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts." He also asserted that Mueller "did not draw a conclusion" on whether President Trump obstructed justice to thwart the investigation.

Yet, there may be multiple assertions in Mueller's report that Trump took actions that can be considered "high crimes and misdemeanors," offenses for which the president should be impeached. Impeachment is a political, not a legal, process. Nancy 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 the details of the Mueller report could make that more difficult.

3- Is there anything in the report that will make Trump backers or Trump haters change their minds about whether to vote for him?

Given the current extreme polarization of US politics, it's hard to imagine that anything in the Mueller Report will change the way people vote in 2020. Since the release of Attorney General Barr's letter on March 24, President Trump's poll numbers haven't changed much. That doesn't mean we shouldn't look for surprises when the document is released. Especially if Democrats can win the coming court battle to publish an unredacted version of it.

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This Saturday, July 20, will mark the 50-year anniversary of the day a human being first stepped onto another world. A moment born out of Cold War political pressures, it's easy to forget a half century later how much bitter controversy the project provoked at home and the intensity of the worldwide fanfare that followed its success.

The moon mission's primary purpose was to defeat the Soviet Union. By the time John Kennedy became president in 1961, the Soviet Union had advanced far ahead of the United States in the race for achievement in space. In October 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik, the world's first satellite. A month later, a dog named Laika became the first living creature to travel beyond Earth's atmosphere. In April 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth, the first human to do so.

In early May, Alan Shepard became the first American in space, spurring Kennedy to announce a far more ambitious plan. On May 25, Kennedy famously pledged that by the end of the decade Americans would go to the moon and return safely to the Earth.

Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, but new President Lyndon Johnson quickly signaled his intention to see the promise kept. The Soviets held their space lead through 1965, by landing an unmanned craft on the Moon.

The moon mission stoked controversy in the United States. A review of polls reveals that only in 1969 did a majority of Americans support the project. Many people argued that the billions spent on a moonshot should go toward the war in Vietnam or to fight poverty in America's inner cities. "No hot water, no toilets, no lights. But Whitey's on the moon," sang musician and activist Gil Scott Heron. It didn't help when a fire during the Apollo 1 mission killed three astronauts and destroyed their space module.

But when Neil Armstrong became the first person to step onto the moon on July 20, 1969, the event took on a life of its own. It was a decade framed by two images of respected TV anchorman Walter Cronkite—shaken to the core on air by the 1963 murder of President Kennedy and then speechless with awe as Americans bounded across the surface of the moon.

A decade that included confrontation with the Soviets in Cuba, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, and Robert Kennedy, a failing war in Vietnam, race riots in American cities, and violent chaos at the 1968 Democratic Party convention ended with an accomplishment a quarter million miles away, that was watched live by 94 percent of Americans who owned a TV.

Americans weren't the only ones watching. About 650 million people around the world watched the moon landing live on TV, making the event the first truly global televised event. Nine weeks later, astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins began a world tour.

Concerns that planting an American flag on the moon's surface would seem an act of obnoxious nationalism faded as the three men were greeted by overflow crowds in 27 cities in 24 countries over 39 days. An estimated one million people greeted them in Dhaka (then Pakistan) and some 1.5 million turned out in Mumbai (then Bombay).

Fifty years later, moon missions are still a mark of national prestige. Russia, China, India, the EU, Japan, and Israel have all sent probes to orbit the Moon or landed vehicles on its surface. But none of them matches that first "giant leap for mankind."

Next up: Mars? For thoughts on the next space race, click here.

Bonus fact: An iPhone has more than 100,000 times the processing power of the computer that landed Apollo 11 on the moon.