Hoppy Kercheval

Good news and bad news in the Mueller report

It is possible that an objective reader  of the summary of the Mueller Report would agree that the investigation includes both good news and bad news.

The bad new is the finding that the Russians tried to influence the 2016 election in two ways. According to Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the report, the Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency, conducted “disinformation and social media operations in the United States designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election.

The second was “the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election.” That was done by hacking into the computers of the Clinton campaign and Democratic Party organizations and distributing the material to the public through WikiLeaks and other avenues.

That should send a chill down the spine of every American and serve as a reminder to the country’s security apparatus and election officials, as well as voters, that the linchpin of our democracy — independent and untainted elections — is under attack.

The good news is the Mueller Report’s conclusion that Donald Trump isn’t some sort of modern-day Manchurian Candidate. “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
It is appropriate to want to see what the full Mueller report says, but the statement itself is an unequivocal declaration; after two years of investigating by 49 FBI agents and 19 lawyers who issued 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, interviewed 500 witnesses and made 13 requests to governments for evidence, the special counsel did not find collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it.

Imagine if they had. Confirmation of a coordinated effort between a presidential campaign and  our country’s biggest existential rival would have delegitimized the election and upended our democracy. Yes, there are many who believed — and still believe despite this report — that Trump colluded, but all should be relieved that he didn’t, for the sake of the country.

What now? Barr has promised to release the full report after redactions due to rules of criminal procedure, the protection of certain witnesses and the secrecy of grand jury testimony. That release should further legitimize the investigation, although warring factions will parse it for nuggets that reinforce their arguments.

And then there is the matter of Trump’s partial victory on the obstruction of justice allegation. Mueller’s report included the notable phrase, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Mueller handed this off to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who concluded that the evidence “is not sufficient” to charge Trump with obstruction.

But House Democrats are going to push ahead on that front. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler promises investigative hearings, including calling Barr to testify. Democrats need to be careful here that they are not viewed as retaliating because they did not get the result they wanted from the special counsel.

They need to look no farther than the price Republicans paid for their dogged pursuit of Bill Clinton over Whitewater and the Monica Lewinski and Paula Jones scandals, which many voters viewed as over zealous.

Washington and the political class are consumed by whatever scandal can be used as leverage in the next election. However, average Americans have a long list of day-to-day problems they believe their leaders should be addressing. The Mueller Report closes a chapter. It’s time to move on.
Hoppy Kercheval  is a MetroNews anchor and the longtime host of “Talkline.” Contact him at hoppy.kercheval@wvradio.com.