Robert Mueller’s Small Fry

Since Robert S. Mueller has pursued President Trump’s people so aggressively, we need to go back to the letter which appointed him as special prosecutor. It told him to look for signs of coordination between Trump’s campaign supporters and the Russian government. But that’s not all it said. The overarching purpose of Mueller’s appointment was “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

The distinction matters. There’s nothing wrong with seeking a rapprochement with the Russians. Sure, I know they’ve been beastly. But those are precisely the kinds of people you want to rein in, and the best way of doing so is by opening up a dialogue with them. There are deals waiting to be made with them, good for them, good for us, good even for the Ukrainians and Syrians.

If thinking like that is a crime, then I have to plead guilty. With my wife and Bob Tyrrell, I helped draft Trump’s major campaign speech on foreign policy, which he delivered at Washington’s Mayflower Hotel on April 27, 2016. In it, we had inserted some language signaling a willingness to reach out to Russia. “We can see how the rapid expansion of NATO to the borders of Russia might have troubled it, how it might have been taken as a threat,” we wrote. That line, perhaps too fawning, didn’t make it into the speech as delivered, and what was substituted was “Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out.”

So are there foreign policy thought crimes now? Have foreign policy differences been criminalized? That’s what you’d think, reading the Washington Post on Tuesday morning. “Trump Official Urged Russian Outreach,” blared the headline. Well, how bout dat? Cash me outside.

Suppose next that, unlike me, the Trump official tries to broker a meeting with Russian officials, as George Papadopoulos did. But if you want a rapprochement with Russia, just how would you go about doing that, except by taking to Russians? Papadopoulos also wanted the trove of Hillary Clinton emails the Russians supposedly had. These were emails that she had illegally withheld, and that would have gone to the question of Russian interference in the election. Except nothing happened. Papadopoulos was a naïf who believed he was dealing with Putin’s niece when a casual perusal of Wikipedia would have told him that Putin doesn’t have a niece. As a private citizen, Papadopoulos did try to reach out to Russian officials, and in theory that would be a breach of the 1799 Logan Act, but that’s a dead letter. No one has been prosecuted under it, and it’s openly broken by people from both parties. Such as Obama. So they didn’t charge Papadopoulos with that.

So what did they get Papadopoulos for? The crime of talking to the feds without a lawyer at his side. They charged him with the crime of making a false statement about something which, had he told the truth, would not have been a crime. That’s how they nailed Martha Stewart, and that’s the crime to which Papadopoulos pled guilty.

And just what were the lies? Papadopoulos told the FBI that he had met a British academic and “Putin’s niece” before he joined the campaign. It turns out that he met them only after he did so. The FBI says that impeded their investigation, but can anyone explain why it might have made a difference? If you’re looking for coordination, the timing doesn’t matter if the discussions with the foreign nationals were ongoing, as they were.

It stinks. And it especially stinks because everyone knows the only reason the feds bothered with him is that they’ll ask him to rat out someone higher up. They’ll tell him he can avoid jail time if he implicates Trump. We know that he lies when he doesn’t have a reason to do so. What do you think a liar will do under that kind of pressure?

Here was Papadopoulos’ real offense: He didn’t ask to see a lawyer before talking to the FBI. And, failing to do so, he didn’t say “to the best of my recollection” before he said anything to them. But his real offense was his assumption that the FBI was on his side, that he could talk freely to them if his conscience was clear. That’s criminal behavior when the FBI is so deeply politicized and willing to put whomever they want in jail.

And by the way, guess who the FBI director was when they shamefully prosecuted Martha Stewart? One Robert S. Mueller.


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About F. H. Buckley

F.H. Buckley teaches at Scalia Law School. His latest book, "The Republic of Virtue: How We Tried to Ban Corruption, Failed, and What We Can Do About It," will be published in December 2017 by Encounter Books.