The Mueller Report was released last week. Undoubtedly it will be discussed much more than it is read. Many of the salient facts were already well-known, including Russian efforts to sow chaos and division among Americans during the 2016 presidential election using “active measures.” These sophisticated propaganda and narrative-making tools find their origins in the Soviet KGB.
While some are pleased to deem President Trump a potential Russian agent because of his stated hopes for better relations with Russia and his tongue-in-cheek calls for Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails, it was clear long before last week that the Russian influence and hacking operations were not directed chiefly to aid his election. One can assume that Russia, like nearly every other observer, presumed Hillary would win.
Consistent with this, the report states: “The [Russian Internet Research Agency] conducted social media operations targeted at large U.S. audiences with the goal of sowing discord in the U.S. political system.” Thus, they created fake grassroots organizations “(with names such as “Being Patriotic,” “Stop All Immigrants,” “Secured Borders,” and “Tea Party News”), purported Black social justice groups (“Black Matters,” “Blacktivist,” and “Don’t Shoot Us”), LGBTQ groups (“LGBT United”), and religious groups (“United Muslims of America”).” The content suggests that Russia created fake grassroots groups (also known as “astroturf”) on either side of the divide to pick at the scabs of festering social controversies. This, in turn, would undermine national unity and the legitimacy of whomever was elected president.
What could possibly sow discord in the U.S. political system more than suggesting the president broke the law and stole an election by treacherously teaming up with a hostile foreign power? This was the essence of the charge made by former F.B.I. director James Comey, former CIA Director James Brennan, and their subordinates using the scandalous Steele dossier. This incredibly corrosive tale converted what were run-of-the-mill hacking and public relations operations, similar to those undertaken by many other nations—including the United States—into an act of war. Further, the dominant narrative (and even parts of Mueller’s report) obscured the fact that this was done without the consent, coordination, or even purpose of aiding one or another candidate.
The report also obscures the distinction of individual Russian nationals and the Russian government. Clearly, some of the influence operations originated in the Kremlin. But contacts with Russian nationals who claimed to have dirt on an opposing candidate have been deemed suspicious, in spite of the media and elite’s pretensions of cosmopolitan globalism, and in spite of the fact that these contacts were not coordinated by the Russian government.
They would never speak ill of such contacts with Chinese, Mexican, or Middle Eastern foreigners this way. Recall, how the media lost its mind over the death of the Qatari asset, Jamal Khashoggi, who was in the United States on a visa. Why was that foreign influence considered so humdrum?
The Investigation’s Pretext
Thus, the Russia panic always had an artificial feel. We are not at war with Russia. Our relations would be better, but for the instigation of domestic and European interests hostile to Russia’s traditionalism, Christianity, and nationalism. Yes, there are disputes about Russia’s muscle-flexing on its borders, whether in Georgia or Ukraine. And the intelligence community includes a great many “Sovietologists” who seem eager to go back to relive the 1980s, even while amorphous Islamic terrorist organizations have done the most damage since 1990.
Worse, many of the left-leaning members of the Intelligence Community have made a huge deal about internal policies in Russia regarding gay rights and the like, none of which has anything to do with foreign policy, and many of which are worse in countries like Saudi Arabia, with whom we are ostensibly allies.
The Russia hysteria is out of kilter with the times. The Cold War is over. We had a peace dividend. Our nuclear stockpile has shrunk. Americans don’t know much or think much about Russia or foreign policy in general. And we are far more threatened by transnational groups, illegal immigration from Latin America, and an ascendant China. These issues were all prominent during the campaign, and Americans made their choice. It deviated from preferred positions of the politicized Intelligence Community and that was enough to set off an unprecedented series of abuses.
The other pretext of the Mueller investigation was the firing of FBI Director James Comey. While he and Mueller are good friends, and he admittedly circulated memos revealing the contents of conversations with Trump in order to have Mueller appointed, it’s also the case that he is a real weirdo who few actually respect.
Whether in the earlier Hillary email investigation or the later Trump collusion investigations, Comey has arrogated power to himself, refused to inform his elected oversight authorities of his activities, and generally acted in a smarmy, self-righteous, and power-hungry way. He has done little since his firing to restore his reputation.
Even if Comey were someone of sterling character, and not a shady ideologue, he and his supporters have self-interested reasons for augmenting the FBI to keep the elected branches of government, including the president, in check. Unfortunately for them, our Constitution does not contemplate unelected Platonic guardians; it is a government of the people.
The FBI is an agency of the Department of Justice, governed by the attorney general, who is himself subordinate to the president. Our elected leaders are overseers of the unelected parts of government, which is supposed to be an instrument in the hands of the president. Since the Progressive Era, unelected officials, large bureaucracies, and semi-independent agencies have tried to carve out a space for “scientific” government in the hands of an unelected and mostly unaccountable managerial class, but this program has no support in our Constitution.
In the 1926 case of United States v. Myers, the Supreme Court held that the President has the power of termination over federal officials. While Senatorial “advice and consent” is required for certain officials’ appointment, the power of termination is unrestricted. The reasons why are obvious, of course. As we know from the private sector, personnel set policy. If they cannot be fired, they can undermine the president’s will, which is supposed to represent the people’s will. James Comey revealed himself to be a liar, schemer, and dangerous out-of-control figure who would undermine the president’s ability to be an effective executive.
His firing was no obstruction of justice. It was absolutely necessary, predictable, and constitutional.
Who Controls the Government?
The tension between Trump and the FBI is part of a broader problem of the power and relations between the president and the administrative state. Do elections matter? Does the president get to set policy within the boundaries of law? Or is the bureaucracy its own class with its own interests and own ideas about how the rubes in flyover country are to be governed? The actions of so many officials suggest that they want to implement a regime that is organized according to the latter understanding.
The pretext—Russian collusion and the firing Comey—masks that the real ideology was that the president could not tell the intelligence community to do things that the American people wanted if the “professionals” deemed those things to be crude, impolitic, ill-advised, or otherwise bad.
The investigation itself was problematic. The fact that its conclusions largely exonerated the president is immaterial. It was an expensive, leaky, two-year exercise in partisan harassment. It was used by leftist partisans and the media—but I repeat myself—to box in the president, encourage more aggressive actions towards Russia, discourage talented people from joining the administration, and generally to wreak havoc upon the ordinary process of transferring power. It disunited the country and accomplished little that was worthy.
The ultimate conclusion—no collusion and no obstruction—was apparently ready before the midterms, but the investigation continued anyway. This was a far more corrosive exercise in election influence than the modest intrusions of Russian Twitter-bots and Facebook ads.
Consider the purpose of the Russian information operations: sowing chaos and distrust. Investigators routinely ask who benefits from a particular action. Is it not obvious that the chief beneficiaries of Mueller’s investigation were Russia and any other country hostile to the United States?
After all, executive branch officials were encouraged to “resist” the president. The military itself pushed back against the president’s minimalist foreign policy in Syria. Lawfare tied up his immigration policies from being implemented by rogue judges in the hinterland. All of these efforts were fueled by the vain hope that he would soon be exposed and impeached.
An essential feature of effective American government is an effective president, whose authority is recognized by subordinate officials, but this was held in abeyance for two years while partisans rooted through his and his associates’ affairs in an open-ended fishing expedition. They came up with nothing related to the ostensible purpose of the investigation, instead concluding that a few associates committed unrelated tax offenses and process crimes. In the case of Trump’s former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, they crucified an innocent and honorable man.
The “efficient causes” of the report, Russia and Comey, are secondary. The real story is the utter contempt in which the left-leaning ruling class holds its countrymen. They invented an elaborate and facially ridiculous conspiracy theory and broke numerous rules and customs in order to excuse a lost election and harass an elected President through an interminable investigation.
The meta-lesson for the country is that they will not allow someone like Trump to be elected again. Even if we win, they will make sure we lose. They will make any president who flirts with nationalism pay the price, and they will make his associates and family pay the price as well.
The thing that saved Trump, ultimately, was the utter lack of evidence to support this specious fantasy. But Trump’s exoneration in the report hardly matters, because the burden of the investigation was substantial and distracting, benefiting mostly the president’s foreign and domestic enemies. As Trump himself put it, “This is the end of my presidency.” Russia, China, Mexico, and every other hostile power in the world could not have invented a more effective means of undermining America’s institutions and national unity.
Perhaps it’s time we look into whether Robert Mueller himself was on the Russian payroll. He delivered the very chaos and disunity Russia’s paltry influence operation aimed for. The suggestion that Mueller is a Russian agent, while ridiculous, is no more ridiculous than the suggestion that Donald Trump ever was.
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