Lessons in democracy from Mueller investigation

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Last week, while we were preoccupied with our Lenten vacations and meditations, the United States of America was swept up in the aftermath of the release of the Mueller report. For those who have not been following American politics, after President Donald Trump was elected, he faced numerous allegations that his campaign had been helped along by collaboration with the Russian government. Interference in another state’s affairs is arguably a wrongful act under international law — this is a particularly dense and nuanced subject — but its domestic implications in America are clearer: it is distinctly “un-American” to let another country have a say in its elections.

“ The report is credible not only because the investigation was headed by someone like Robert Mueller, but because his investigation centered on testimony and evidence provided by Trump appointees and supporters.

Initially the claims against President Trump were being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, but President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017. At the demand of over a hundred Democratic members of Congress, the Department of Justice (DoJ) Special Counsel’s Office began its own investigation. Appointed as Special Counsel for the Russia probe was Robert Mueller: a Vietnam war veteran who received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart for his service and a lawyer who had served as a public prosecutor, Assistant (and later Deputy) Attorney General and the director of the FBI from 2001 to 2013.

The substance of Mueller’s investigation was the original claims of collusion with the Russians, as well as a criminal investigation into whether President Trump and others had attempted to obstruct justice. Mueller began his investigation in May 2017 and finished last month. His 448-page report was submitted to Attorney General William Barr, who summarized it and stated that there was no finding of collusion. The American public clamored for the report, so they could do their own reading, and when it was finally released last week the contents were astonishing.

I urge all interested in politics to read the Mueller report in full. Some parts are redacted, but even what is left will give you an incredible (and terrible) picture of what has been happening in the Trump White House. The report is credible not only because the investigation was headed by someone like Robert Mueller, but because his investigation centered on testimony and evidence provided by Trump appointees and supporters. (Most interesting to me were the testimonies of his lawyers and campaign heads).

Of note is the fact that the Mueller report definitely did not exonerate President Trump of collusion, nor did it clear him of obstruction of justice. My own reading of the report is that President Trump was not charged because they simply do not charge sitting presidents. (Much like the Philippines, where Presidents enjoy immunity from suit during their term).

Meanwhile, as a result of the Mueller investigation, 34 people and three companies have been charged with interfering with the 2016 election, hacking and witness-tampering. The report even outlines 10 instances wherein President Trump himself behaved in legally (and ethically) questionable ways.

I followed the coverage of the Mueller investigation ever since it began, and what struck me (more than its eventual findings) was that it managed to finish in the first place. The report details several instances where President Trump tried to put a stop to the investigation and fire Mueller like he did Comey, but his own aides and appointees refused to follow his orders and instead acted so that Mueller could proceed. Robert Mueller himself has been attacked by President Trump over a thousand times in the last two years, yet he did not allow his investigation to be derailed. When his investigation was completed and his report submitted, the reaction was split between satisfaction and disappointment, but united in one aspect; they gave full credit to Mueller’s findings, though they differed as to their conclusions on his report.

This is a miracle of democracy in a deeply-polarized society, and I truly believe we have something to learn from that.

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