About thebellyofthebeast

Adjunct professor at Northwestern University's School of Law and its Weinberg College of Arts & Sciences, contributing editor to ABA "Litigation" and "The American Lawyer," and author of "The Lawyer Bubble - A Profession in Crisis (2013), "The Partnership - A Novel" (2010), "Crossing Hoffa - A Teamster's Story" (2007) (A "Chicago Tribune" Best Book of the Year), and "Straddling Worlds: The Jewish-American Journey of Professor Richard W. Leopold" (2008). Recently retired after 30 years at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. Graduated from Harvard Law School (magna cum laude) and Northwestern University (combined B.A./M.A. in economics, with distinction and Phi Beta Kappa).


[This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on Sept. 8, 2019:]

In December 2016, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said that Russia’s attack on the US presidential election amounted to an “act of war.” A recap of summer highlights from the Trump-Russia Timeline reveals that it’s happening again — with Trump and his congressional allies aiding the assault.

Trump Solicits Foreign Dirt

Trump encourages foreign interference in America’s upcoming election — provided he’s the beneficiary.

  • May 7-10, 2019: Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is planning to visit Ukraine with the intention of persuading its incoming government to pursue investigations that could help Trump’s re-election campaign. After advisers urge Ukraine’s new president not to meet with Giuliani, he abandons the trip.
  • During the week of May 20: Giuliani instead meets in New York with a former Ukrainian diplomat as part of an aggressive effort to get dirt on Trump’s US political opponents.
  • June 12: Trump declares publicly that he’s willing to accept a foreign government’s offer of dirt on a political opponent. He adds that FBI Director Christopher Wray is wrong in stating that a candidate receiving such an overture should call the FBI. The chair of the Federal Election Commission reminds all candidates that accepting foreign help is a crime.
  • June 14: Trump tweets praise for Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) after she blocks legislation that would have required all federal candidates to report a foreign government’s offer of election assistance.
  • June 28: At the G-20 summit in Osaka, a reporter asks Trump if he will tell Putin not to meddle in the US election. “Of course, I will,” Trump says. He turns to Putin, who is sitting next to him, and says with a smile, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Playfully, he wags his finger in the air and repeats, “Don’t meddle in the election.” Putin chuckles.
  • July 23: Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, FBI Director Christopher Wray testifies, “The Russians are absolutely intent on trying to interfere with our elections….”
  • July 28: In a tweet, Trump announces the departure of Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who has been outspoken in warning about Russia’s past and ongoing election interference.
  • Aug. 1: A reporter asks Trump about his July 31 phone call with Putin: “Mr. President, Robert Mueller said last week that Russia is interfering in the U.S. elections right now. Is that —
    Trump interrupts, “Oh you don’t really believe this. Do you believe this? Ok, fine. We didn’t talk about it.”
  • Aug. 20-22: Guiliani confirms that “over the past few weeks,” he has been pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s family and the DNC — and he asserts that the US State Department has been helping him.
  • Aug. 24-26, 2019: At the G-7 summit in France, Trump advocates on Putin’s behalf and says that he will invite him to the 2020 summit in the US. Other G-7 leaders object because Putin’s ongoing exclusion from the group has been retribution for Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
  • Aug. 26 2019: As Giuliani pressures the Ukrainian government to develop dirt on Biden and the DNC, Trump delays the release of US military aid that Congress has appropriated to help Ukraine’s ongoing battle against Russian aggression.
  • Sept. 2, 2019: After Mike Pence meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Warsaw, a reporter asks Pence whether he can assure Ukraine that Trump’s delay in military aid to that country is unrelated to Giuliani’s efforts to get dirt on Biden’s family from the Ukrainian government. Pence deflects: “[Zelensky and I] discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail… As President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of [Ukrainian] corruption.”

Senate Republicans Follow Trump’s Lead

Trump and his congressional allies — most notably Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — are blocking efforts to defend against attacks on US elections.

  • May 14: Ron DeSantis (R-FL) acknowledges that Russian hackers had gained access to voter databases in two Florida counties prior to the 2016 election, per a new briefing from the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security.
  • June 7: McConnell continues to block Senate consideration of bipartisan legislation aimed at better securing American elections.
  • July 24: Special counsel Robert Mueller testifies that Russia is continuing its efforts to interfere with US elections. Later that evening, Senate Republicans block two election security bills and a cybersecurity measure, earning McConnell the Twitter moniker #MoscowMitch.
  • July 25: The Senate Intelligence Committee issues findings on Russia’s 2016 election attacks and the nation’s vulnerability to future attacks. The report observes that Russia targeted all 50 states and, in Illinois, “Russian cyberactors were in a position to delete or change voter data” in the voter database. It concludes, “Cybersecurity for electoral infrastructure at the state and local level was sorely lacking in 2016. Despite increased focus over the last three years, some of these vulnerabilities, including aging voting equipment, remain.”

A Founder’s’ Foresight

As Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention in 1787, a citizen of the new nation asked him, “Well, Doctor, what have we got — a republic or a monarchy?”

“A republic,” Franklin replied, “if you can keep it.”

He was speaking to all of us.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:

JUNE 19, 2017: Trump Gives Lewandowski Message for Sessions: Limit Mueller

JULY 19, 2017: Trump Follows Up With Lewandowski About Message to Sessions

AUG. 26, 2019: Trump Says He’ll Defy Previous Preconditions and Invite Putin to 2020 G-7 Summit

AUG. 26, 2019: House Subpoenas Porter

AUG. 26, 2019: House Moves to Expedite Subpoena Enforcement Action Against McGahn

AUG. 28-29, 2019: Trump Delays Military Assistance to Ukraine

AUG 29, 2019: Inspector General Issues Report on Comey; DOJ Declines to Prosecute; Trump Tweets

AUG. 30-SEPT. 1, 2019: Trump Continues Attacking Comey

SEPT. 2, 2019: Pence Parrots Trump Equivocating on Ukraine

SEPT. 3-4, 2019: Trump Tweets About IG Report on Comey and Mueller Report, Attacks FBI

SEPT. 6, 2019: Trump Tweets About ‘Witch Hunt’ and ‘Spygate’

SEPT. 7, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Lyin’ Leakin’ James Comey!’


It may be occurring in plain sight, but it’s still collusion.

Last week, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani admitted that he has been pressuring Ukraine’s government to investigate what he calls “two alleged crimes” relating to Trump’s US political opponents. Even more stunning, he said that the US Department of State had been assisting his efforts.

According to The New York Times, “One is whether Ukrainian officials took steps during the 2016 election to damage Mr. Trump’s campaign. The other is whether there was anything improper about the overlap between former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s diplomatic efforts in Ukraine and his son’s role with a gas company there.”

Meanwhile, Trump himself spent much the G-7 summit clashing with the leaders of the world’s most industrialized nations over Vladimir Putin. Trump alone wants Putin back in the G-7, which was the G-8 until leaders unanimously disinvited him after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014.

And you probably thought the big news of the week was that Joe Walsh announced his Republican party primary challenge against Trump.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:

AUG. 15, 2019: House Subpoenas Lewandowski and Dearborn; Lewandowski Says He’s ‘Happy To Appear’; Trump Endorses Him For Senate

AUG. 18, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Mueller Report & His Testimony Were A Total Disaster’

AUG. 20, 2019: Trump Wants Russia Back in the G-7

AUG. 20-22, 2019: Giuliani Admits He’s Pressuring Ukraine to Investigate Biden and DNC

AUG. 22, 2019: Sarah Sanders Joins Fox News

AUG. 22, 2019: Trump Retweets About Ohr, ‘Clinton/DNC Spies At Fusion GPS’

AUG. 23, 2019: Trump Tweets About McCabe

AUG. 25, 2019: Trump Tweets and Retweets About Comey, Clinton, Steele, ‘Spygate’




Thanks to investigative reporters, the public learned a lot about the Trump-Russia scandal long before special counsel Robert Mueller issued his report. But the report itself reveals that he knew much more. The latest update to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security. incorporates new information from Volume I of Mueller’s report.

Coming soon: Updates based on Volume II (Obstruction).

Here’s a complete list of the Volume I items. The individual entry titles alone tell a story. Interspersing them with the existing Timeline entries makes the saga even more fascinating. And it’s not a narrative of innocence.

NEW: MAR. 29-30, 2016: Manafort/Gates Memo to Ukrainian Oligarchs

NEW: MAR. 31, 2016: Kushner Finds a Venue for Trump’s First Major Foreign Policy Speech

NEW: BEFORE APR. 12, 2016: Russians Have Gained Access to DCCC Computer Network

NEW: MID-APRIL 2016: Simes Helps Miller Write Trump’s Foreign Policy Speech

NEW: APR. 18, 2016: Russians Gain Access to DNC Computers

NEW: BEGINNING APR. 19, 2016 to ELECTION DAY: Russians Purchase Social Media Ads Explicitly Endorsing Trump (in place of previous entry: APRIL TO NOVEMBER 2016: Russians Buy Pro-Trump Ads)

NEW: BY APR. 19, 2016: Russians Begin Planning Release of Stolen DCCC and DNC Documents

NEW: NEW: APRIL 25, 2016: GRU Exfiltrates Data from DCCC’s File On The 2016 Election

REVISED: APR. 25, 2016: Papadopoulos Informs Stephen Miller About Russia Contacts

REVISED: APR. 27, 2016: Papadopoulos Continues Reporting to Trump Campaign

REVISED: APRIL 27, 2016: Trump Delivers First Major Foreign Policy Speech

NEW: MAY 7, 2016: Manafort and Kilimnik Meet in New York

NEW: DAYS BEFORE JUNE 9, 2016: Don Jr. Says He Has a Lead on Negative Info on Clinton

NEW: JUNE 12, 2016: Assange Claims to Have Clinton Emails

NEW: JUNE 14, 2016: Russians Contact WikiLeaks About Coordinating Release of Stolen Emails

REVISED: JUNE 19, 2016: Papadopoulos’ Russia Push Continues

NEW: JUNE 22, 2016: WikiLeaks Contacts Guccifer 2.0 About Stolen Emails

NEW: JULY 14, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 Sends WikiLeaks Encrypted File

REVISED: ON OR SHORTLY AFTER JULY 22, 2016: Someone Directs ‘Senior Trump Campaign Official’ to Contact Stone About Additional WikiLeaks Releases; Trump Campaign Planning Strategy Based on Possible Releases

NEW: AFTER JULY 27, 2016: Trump Asks Individuals Affiliated With Campaign to Find Deleted Clinton Emails

NEW: AUG. 23, 2016: Millian Message to Papadopoulos Re: ‘Disruptive Technology’

NEW: AUG. 28, 2016: Smith Emails Clovis and Others About Search for Clinton Emails

NEW: OCT. 15, 2016: Smith Emails Flynn About Search for Clinton Emails

NEW: NOV. 14, 2016: Papadopoulos and Millian Meet in Chicago

REVISED: DEC. 28-29, 2016: Flynn Discusses New Sanctions With Kislyak

NEW: DEC. 30, 2016: McFarland Memo Summarizes Flynn Discussions With Kislyak

REVISED: JAN. 3-4, 2017: Erik Prince Meets with George Nader About Dmitriev

NEW: JAN. 8, 2017: Nader Says Bannon Designated Prince to Meet Dmitriev

REVISED: JAN. 11, 2017: Prince Meets With Putin Associate in the Seychelles; Then Tells Contradictory Stories


Lost in the chaos of mass shooting tragedies, Jeffrey Epstein’s death, the China trade war, and Trump’s curated media storm surrounding those and other events was the filing of three new lawsuits. They shine another spotlight on Trump’s efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation, require public servants to place personal loyalty to Trump over country, and abuse presidential power by punishing those who resist him.

Lawsuit #1: Strzok Sues Justice Department

Abuse of Power: On Aug. 6, 2019, Peter Strzok, who spent more than 20 years as a career professional at the FBI, sued the Justice Department for firing him wrongfully because of “unrelenting pressure from President Trump and his political allies in Congress and the media.” The campaign included “constant tweets and other disparaging statements by the President as well as direct appeals from the President” to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Trump-Russia Backstory: In July 2016, Strzok was deputy assistant director of the FBI’s counterintelligence division. He signed off on the document officially launching the Trump-Russia investigation and then helped lead it. The mere discharge of his job responsibilities made him a future Trump target.

Lawsuit #2: The House Judiciary Committee Sues McGahn

Abuse of Power: On Aug. 7, 2019, the House Judiciary Committee sued to enforce its subpoena against Don McGahn, who is currently following White House orders to defy Congress. The lawsuit described him as the most important witness in Congress’ investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.

Trump-Russia Backstory: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report cited McGahn’s interviews with Mueller more than any other witness: 157 times. McGahn was a first-hand observer of key episodes when Trump attempted to block the Russia investigation, including:

  • Trump’s response when he learned that then-National Security Adviser Mike Flynn had lied to the FBI;
  • The termination of FBI Director James Comey;
  • Trump’s order that McGahn fire Mueller;
  • Trump’s effort to get McGahn to deny that he’d ever ordered him to fire Mueller;
  • Trump’s effort to get McGahn to prepare a false record hiding the fact that he’d ordered him to fire Mueller; and
  • Trump’s effort to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation and limit the scope of Mueller’s investigative.

Although Trump ordered McGahn not to testify, McGahn’s attorney William A. Burck now says,“Don does not believe he witnessed any violation of law.” More than 1,000 former federal prosecutors who served in Democratic and Republican administrations reviewed the facts and disagree with his irrelevant belief.

Lawsuit #3: McCabe Sues Justice Department

Abuse of Power: On Aug. 8, 2019, former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe sued the Justice Department for firing him wrongfully because he refused “to pledge allegiance to a single man” — Donald Trump.

McCabe claims that FBI Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Jeff Sessions demoted him for political reasons and that, “in response to Trump’s requests, pressures, and influence, they initiated and accelerated pretextual disciplinary proceedings in order to satisfy Trump’s unlawful desire” to remove him before his announced retirement date — thereby depriving McCabe of his full retirement benefits.

Trump-Russia Backstory: McCabe was among the handful of senior FBI officials in whom then-Director James Comey confided after Trump sought Comey’s personal loyalty and tried to interfere with the FBI’s ongoing Trump-Russia investigation. As a corroborating witness for Comey’s version of those events, he’s Trump’s enemy.

After Comey’s firing, McCabe opened the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into Trump. So as with Strzok, the mere discharge of his job responsibilities also made McCabe a Trump target.

Mueller’s report does not include any findings relating to that counterintelligence probe. But this underreported passage alludes to them:

“From its inception, the [Special Counsel’s] Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission… For more than the past year, the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send — in writing — summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices.” [Vol. I, p. 13]

What evidence do those summaries contain? To this day, the public doesn’t know. But we do know that Trump tried to stop the Russia investigation, punished those who pursued it, and still panders to Putin. The FBI’s counterintelligence evidence and findings might explain why — and that should trouble every American.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:

DEC. 10, 2015: Flynn Receives Money From RT (revision of previous entry)

JULY 29, 2019: Trump Retweets Papadopoulos

JULY 30, 2019:  Court Dismisses DNC Suit Against Wikileaks and Trump Campaign

JULY 30-31, 2019: Trump Misstates Reasons for Court Dismissal of DNC Case

AUG. 1, 2019: Trump Rebuffs Suggestions of Russian Election Interference; Trump and Putin Discuss Need for New US Ambassador to Russia

AUG. 1, 2019: Judge Refuses to Dismiss Stone’s Indictment

AUG. 2-8, 2019: Ratcliffe Withdraws as Trump’s DNI Nominee; Sue Gordon Retires as Deputy Director; Trump Names Joseph Maguire Acting Director

AUG. 2, 2019: Majority of House Democrats Favor Impeachment; Pelosi Responds

AUG. 6, 2019: Strzok Sues Justice Department and FBI

AUG. 7, 2019: House Sues To Enforce McGahn’s Subpoena

AUG. 8, 2019: McCabe Sues Justice Department and FBI

AUG. 8, 2019: Nadler: “This Is Formal Impeachment Proceedings”



On Friday, July 26, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) summarized key points from special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony two days earlier. He said that “in effect” the committee has been conducting an impeachment inquiry.

Then he issued a threat: The Judiciary Committee will seek to enforce the subpoena it served on former White House counsel Don McGahn in April. That’s a problem for Trump.

VIDEO LINK: https://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/nadler-house-judiciary-cmte-to-file-application-for-grand-jury-material-underlying-mueller-report-64648261729

Obstructing the Investigation into Obstruction

McGahn was an eyewitnesses to Trump’s obstruction of justice. Mueller’s investigators interviewed him for 30 hours. Mueller’s report cited those interviews 157 times — more than any other witness. McGahn can tell the world what Trump said and did as it was happening.

That’s why Trump is trying to stop him. On May 20 — the day before McGahn’s scheduled congressional appearance — the Justice Department gave Trump an unusual legal opinion. It argued that McGahn was “absolutely immune” from being compelled to testify about his time in the White House. White House counsel Pat Cipollone directed McGahn not to appear, so he didn’t.

Prominent legal scholars and practitioners regard Trump’s “congressional immunity” claim as a loser. But his motive is clear: Delay and, if possible, avoid altogether the must-see TV that McGahn’s public congressional appearance would be.

Trump’s Congressional Defenders Persist

The prospect of McGahn’s congressional appearance wasn’t the only important Trump-Russia news. On July 24, Mueller urged everyone to take the Russian election interference threat seriously:

“[O]ver the course of my career I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our election is among the most serious….”

Senate Republicans don’t care. The next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led efforts to block two bills that would strengthen election security. One would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance. The other would allow the US Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.

As the Timeline reveals, back in August 2016, then-CIA Director John Brennan warned McConnell and others in the “Gang of Eight” congressional leaders that Russia was interfering in the election with the goal of helping Trump win. In September 2016, McConnell refused President Obama’s request that McConnell sign a bipartisan letter warning about Russian election interference.

And now McConnell is complaining that on social media the label #MoscowMitch is trending — and sticking.

Goodbye Coats, Hello Ratcliffe

And finally, Trump finally jettisoned Dan Coats as his director of national intelligence. Coats has publicly disagreed with Trump’s efforts to downplay Russian election interference. To replace him, Trump chose one of his most fervent loyalists, Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-TX).

Who is he? Persistently, Ratcliffe has advocated an “investigation into the investigators” connected to the Trump-Russia probe. During Mueller’s July 24 hearings, Ratcliffe launched aggressive and misleading attacks on Mueller without giving him an opportunity to respond. Ratcliffe probably knew that his televised performance was a job interview, and he passed with flying colors.

The problem is that Ratcliffe is totally unqualified to hold the DNI position. Here’s the job description from the government’s website:

“The Director of National Intelligence serves as the head of the US Intelligence Community, overseeing and directing the implementation of the National Intelligence Program and acting as the principal advisor to the President, the National Security Council, and the Homeland Security Council for intelligence matters related to national security. The Office of the DNI’s goal is to effectively integrate foreign, military and domestic intelligence in defense of the homeland and of United States interests abroad.”

From 2004 to 2012, Ratcliffe was mayor of Heath,Texas (pop. 8,000). In 2007, he became acting US Attorney for the eastern district of Texas, a position he held for about a year. Then Ratcliffe returned to his private law practice until 2014, when he ran for Congress and won.

Mere blind loyalty to Trump should not suffice for Senate confirmation of any position, much less the head of the key coordinating agency for all US intelligence activities. We’ll see if Senate Republicans agree.

Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline at Dan Rather’s News & Guts and at Just Security:

JULY 16, 2019: Judge Bars Stone From Social Media

JULY 17-18, 2019: Prosecutors End Investigation of ‘Hush Money Payoff’ Case; Newly Revealed Documents Show FBI Learned That Trump and Hicks Knew About Scheme

JULY 18, 2019: Nadler Asks Hicks to Explain Inconsistencies in Her Earlier Testimony

JULY 19, 2019: Nader Pleads Not Guilty to Child Transportation Sex Charges

JULY 19, 2019: Coats Announces New Election Security Position

JULY 22, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Highly Conflicted Robert Mueller, Witch Hunt, NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION’; Peter Strzok and ‘His Lover, Lisa Page’

JULY 22, 2019: DOJ Tells Mueller To Stick To His Report

JULY 23, 2019: Trump Tweets: ‘Only 11% In Favor Of Starting Ridiculous Impeachment Hearings’

JULY 23, 2019: Flynn Associate Convicted

JULY 23, 2019: Wray Testifies That Russian Determined to Interfere in US Elections

JULY 23-24, 2019: Trump Tweets About Mueller’s Anticipated Congressional Appearance

JULY 24, 2019: Mueller Testifies

JULY 24, 2019: During and After Mueller’s Testimony, Trump Tweets And Retweets

JULY 25, 2019: Senate Republicans Block Election Security Bill

JULY 25, 2019: Trump Continues to Tweet About Mueller

JULY 25, 2019: Senate Intelligence Committee Releases Bipartisan Report on Russian Attacks on Election Infrastructure

JULY 26, 2019: Trump Tweets About Mueller. Steele Dossier, ‘Witch Hunt’

JULY 26, 2019: Nadler: Committee Has ‘In Effect’ Been Conducting An Impeachment Inquiry

JULY 27-28, 2019: Trump Continues Tweets About Mueller Investigation and Impeachment

JULY 28, 2019: Trump Announces Coats’ Departure


Anyone focusing on substance over style could see that Robert Mueller’s testimony gave Donald Trump a very bad day. Many in the media share the blame for any public perception to the contrary. Stephen Colbert called them out:

The numerous critics of Mueller’s appearance might consider how directors make a movie. For hundreds of hours over many weeks, they film individual scenes. The director then works with editors — slicing and splicing to create a coherent motion picture. Their goal is to create a finished product that will entertain an audience for a couple of hours. The final movie includes only the good stuff. If it contained all of the rough footage, no one would watch it.

For more than five hours on July 24, viewers saw rough footage as the House began the process of creating the most important documentary in American history. But buried in those hours of testimony was some important stuff — including riveting “Mueller moments” that refuted Trump’s favorite lies.

The Truth About Trump’s Key Talking Points

For example, at the outset, Mueller confirmed that Trump’s central rhetorical talking points — “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Total Exoneration” — are lies. Without hesitation, he refuted each of them:

He similarly dispatched “Witch Hunt” and “Hoax”:

But those moments didn’t gain as much media traction as Mueller’s demeanor. So Trump continues undaunted — repeating the lies. Three days after Mueller’s testimony, he strung them all together yet again in a July 27 tweet:

The Truth About Collusion

Likewise, when Trump claims that Mueller found “no collusion,” most Americans believe it means that Mueller cleared Trump and his campaign of accepting Russia’s help to win the 2016 election. But this exchange between Mueller and House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) made clear that the Trump campaign did exactly that:

SCHIFF: Russia committed federal crimes in order to help Donald Trump?

MUELLER: When you’re talking about computer crimes in the charge…


MUELLER: … in our case, absolutely.

SCHIFF: The Trump campaign officials built their strategy – their messaging strategy around those stolen documents?

MUELLER: Generally that’s true.

SCHIFF: And then they lied to cover it up.

MUELLER: Generally, that’s true.

The sequence came at the end of Schiff’s first round of questioning. Take four minutes and watch all of it:

The Truth About Obstruction

Regarding obstruction of justice, Democratic members of the Judiciary Committee focused on just a few of Trump’s obstructive efforts that Mueller’s report detailed:

— Trump’s direction to then-White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller,

— Trump’s subsequent efforts to get McGahn to deny that he had issued such an order,

— Trump’s efforts through former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who had recused himself from the Mueller investigation) to curtail Mueller’s probe, and

— Trump’s repeated efforts to dangle pardons to Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Michael Cohen.

As Mueller confirmed stunning facts and findings that Trump tried to interfere with the investigation, no Republican on the committee disputed any of them. Rather than focus on Mueller’s alarming message, most media pundits critiqued the style of the messenger.

The Truth About Russian Interference

Mueller’s opening statement before the House Judiciary Committee emphasized the gravity of Russia’s election interference — and then he repeated those concerns verbatim to the House Intelligence Committee:

“[O]ver the course of my career I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in our election is among the most serious….”

In response to Rep. Will Hurd’s (R-TX) questions, Mueller added: “They’re doing it as we sit here. And they expect to do it during the next campaign.”

Yet the next day, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) led efforts to block two bills that would strengthen election security. One would require campaigns to alert the FBI and Federal Election Commission about foreign offers of assistance. The other would allow the US Senate’s sergeant-at-arms to offer voluntary cyber assistance for personal devices and accounts of senators and staff.

The Truth Should Matter

The testimony of eyewitnesses will help the many scenes in Mueller’s report coalesce into a digestible narrative. But it will take time. For example, in June 1973, Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel John Dean first testified to the Senate Watergate Committee about a “cancer on the Presidency,” but it still took more than a year for the House to vote articles of impeachment.

What happens next depends on the House of Representatives issuing subpoenas and the courts enforcing them. It depends on the media focusing on depth rather than sound bites and valuing substance over style. And it depends on the public’s patience and attention span. In the end, truth can prevail if it is seen and heard.



[This post first appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts on July 23, 2019:]

Here’s the key fact about special counsel Robert Mueller’s appearances before two congressional committees on Wednesday: Most Americans haven’t read his report. They will be hearing for the first time what he knows about the Trump campaign’s involvement in Russian election interference with the 2016 presidential election. And they will be hearing for the first time about obstruction by Trump and others to prevent Mueller from knowing even more.

Until now, the heads of America’s body politic have been filled with Trump’s false sound bites: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Total Exoneration.” Mueller’s appearances are the Democrats’ chance — perhaps their final chance — to replace those lies with facts and truth.

Early Signs Of Winners And Losers: Keeping It Simple

For Democrats, success will take the form of a simple, coherent story. That requires a narrative outlining nothing more than what Mueller’s report already says. And no legal jargon.

After Mueller sought guidance from the Justice Department, the deputy attorney general’s office told him to “remain within the boundaries” of his public report and May 29 statement. That’s fine. Mueller need go no farther to produce the story that Democrats should be seeking to convey anyway.

For Republicans, success means muddying the waters and encouraging Mueller’s silence in response to Democrats’ questions. If Democrats grandstand with sound bites for use in their 2020 re-election campaign ads, they will be helping Trump and the GOP in that mission.

Look For Competing Narratives: Collusion

The House Judiciary Committee will spend three hours quizzing Mueller on obstruction. Then the House Intelligence Committee will tackle his conclusions on Russian interference. But look for the Judiciary Committee to set the stage briefly with some context before diving into Mueller’s findings on obstruction. That requires asking Mueller to read a few pertinent passages from his report:

  • Russia engaged in a “sweeping and systematic” operation to help Trump win the 2016 election;
  • “[T]he Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome”; and
  • “[T]he Campaign expected that it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” [Vol. I, pp. 1-2]

Democrats can then neutralize Trump’s “No Collusion” lie by juxtaposing it against Mueller’s report. He made no such a finding. In fact, he didn’t even consider “collusion” because, as a legal concept, the term relates only to antitrust law.

The format of alternating questioning periods between Democratic and Republican committee members provides Trump’s congressional allies with an opportunity to intersperse distractions. Look for them to pull out shiny objects relating to the origins of the Russia investigation, FISA warrants, text messages between Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, and alleged political bias by members of Mueller’s team. None of that affects the evidence that Mueller, a lifelong Republican, found or the conclusions that he reported. But that’s all the GOP has, so they will go with it.

Look For Competing Narratives: Obstruction

The Judiciary Committee’s main narrative should include a series of questions that encourage Mueller to explain why obstruction matters to federal investigators, as he did in his May 29, 2019 press appearance:

“When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Committee members should then ask Mueller these questions:

Must an attempt to obstruct justice succeed to be illegal? Mueller’s report already says no. He can read that passage aloud. [Vol. II, pp. 11-12]

Does obstruction require an underlying crime that the perpetrator is trying to obstruct? Again, Mueller’s report already says no. He can read that too. [Vol. II, p. 157]

Did Mueller find attempts to obstruct the government’s effort to find the truth in connection with Russian election interference? His report already provides the answer, and the Democrats apparently plan to focus on this sample:

  • Trump’s direction to the former White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller and then publicly lie about it;
  • Trump’s request that Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign chief, ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reassert control of the investigation and limit its scope; and
  • Possible witness tampering to discourage two aides, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen, from cooperating with investigators. For example, Trump dangled a pardon in front of former campaign manager Paul Manafort. Thereafter, Manafort changed his story and breached an agreement to cooperate with the government. [Vol. II, pp. 127-128]

For each episode, look for Democrats to develop a simple narrative by asking Mueller to quote from the various witness statements in his report. Democrats can then neutralize Trump’s “No Obstruction” lie by asking Mueller if, in fact, he had made such a finding. He didn’t. The natural follow-up similarly disposes of Trump’s “Total Exoneration” lie. For both, Mueller can conclude by reading aloud this passage:

“[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

And then this one:

“Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” [Vol. 2, p. 2]

Then It’s On To The House Intelligence Committee

Look for the Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee to revisit the larger themes:

  • Russia interfered in the 2016 election and wanted Trump to win. Mueller should be asked to explain Russia’s “systematic and sweeping” operation. It will be difficult to get him talking, but on this subject he might be willing to do so and they should try.
  • The Trump campaign embraced Russia’s help. Mueller should describe his evidence that the campaign welcomed Russian assistance.
  • There were numerous links between the Trump campaign and Russia. That requires Mueller to name names and their positions in the campaign, all of which are in the report.

The narrative could also dovetail with obstruction. In addition to the major episodes that the Judiciary Committee is expected to cover, the following specific items could provide additional color:

  • Trump refused to let Mueller interview him and limited the scope of written questions to “certain Russia-related topics.” [Vol. II, p. C-1]
  • After receiving Trump’s written responses, Mueller told Trump’s lawyers that the answers were insufficient in several respects. On 30 occasions, Trump said he did not “recall or remember” or have an “independent recollection” of the information Mueller requested. [Vol. I, p. C-1]
  • When Mueller followed-up, seeking an “in-person interview, limited to certain topics,” Trump refused. [Vol. II, pp. C-1-2]
  • Donald Trump Jr. refused to let Mueller interview him on any subject, including the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians promising “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. [Vol. I, p. 117]
  • Individuals associated with the Trump campaign “lied to investigators about Campaign contacts with Russia and have taken other actions to interfere with the investigation.” [Vol. I, p. 191]
  • As former national security adviser Mike Flynn faced criminal investigation, Trump’s attorneys conveyed to his attorneys Trump’s continuing support. [Vol. II, pp. 120-122]. Trump is still fueling speculationthat he’ll pardon Flynn, and Flynn’s formerly cooperative relationship with the government pursuant to his guilty plea deal has deteriorated.
  • Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Erik Prince exchanged dozens of text messages about a Jan. 11, 2017 meeting in the Seychelles involving Russians, but those messages mysteriously disappeared. (Vol. I, p. 156)

Above All: Listen To Mueller

Mueller is reportedly planning to give an opening statement. If he reiterates the themes of his report and May 29 statement, he will be sending this message to Congress and the American people: He found evidence of wrongdoing, but his conspiracy investigation crashed into Trump’s wall of obstruction. What Mueller refers to as the constitutional process for moving forward lies with the House of Representatives, not him or Attorney General William Barr.

Listen for that message, and ignore the distractions that Trump’s congressional defenders offer along the way.