The absence of evidence isn’t the evidence of absence, say scientists. However fruitful this notion could be when applied to scientific research, it doesn’t quite work in criminal investigation – certainly not in a country ruled by law.
We’re in a discussion forum, and in this arena the evidence presented by Mueller is damning.
That’s why it sounds so strange to my ear when the Mueller report states that Trump can’t be indicted for collusion with Russia. He can’t even be indicted for obstruction of justice, but then neither can he be exonerated.
To this rank legal amateur, the absence of evidence for an indictment in itself means exoneration – as far as criminal proceedings go. But we aren’t in a court of law here, are we?
This, even if we don’t speculate about the contents of the redacted 12 per cent of his report – and ignore Mueller’s frank admission that, though he would have liked to subpoena both Trump and some of his Russian friends, he couldn’t do so. Trump could have fought the subpoena indefinitely, and the Russians involved wisely don’t venture anywhere near the US.
Let’s just deal with known facts. Thus it’s a fact that Russian intelligence services actively interfered in the presidential campaign to get Trump elected.
The interference, which Mueller calls “sweeping and systematic”, involved hacking the e-mails of Trump’s opponents, using thousands of fake accounts to bombard American voters with false messages about Hilary Clinton and offering such information to Trump’s confidants.
Heirs to the KGB don’t offer such assistance just for the hell of it. Putin’s junta clearly felt it stood to benefit from Trump’s election and, when he did get elected, champagne was broken out in the Duma. Russian media, mostly controlled by the state, were openly talking about “Operation Trump”, “Our Trump” and some such.
Yes, no evidence has been found that Trump or his people criminally conspired with the Russians to set those wheels in motion. However, they did happily accept the help.
Throughout the campaign, Trump’s closest associates, such as Donald Trump Jr., regularly met with Russian operatives and retweeted the fake information they provided. Claims that such contacts could have happened without Trump’s authorisation or at least knowledge stretch my credulity to snapping point.
Following a tip from Russian spies, one such aide, Michael Flynn, who later became Trump’s first National Security Advisor, was specifically ordered to recover Clinton’s deleted e-mails. Later he and half a dozen other aides were convicted on a variety of criminal charges, with Russia figuring prominently in most of them.
Fourth, Trump for decades had business contacts with the Russian mafia, which term I use for brevity’s sake to describe the homogeneous fusion of government, security services and organised crime that rules Russia.
According to the testimony of his lawyer Michael Cohen, such contacts didn’t stop during the campaign, which Trump denies. One way or the other, Trump and the mafia got on famously, as he himself often boasted:
“But I know Russia well. I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago… I got to meet a lot of people. [Quite. Photographs galore show Trump indulging in public foreplay with any number of Russian gangsters, such as the Agalarovs.] And you know what? They want to be friendly with the United States. Wouldn’t it be nice if we actually got on with somebody?”
[Such friendliness isn’t very much in evidence now, and wasn’t then. Russian state TV incessantly sputters venom about the US and its allies. Just the other day grateful viewers of Rossiya-1 (sort of like our BBC) were treated to this typical insight: “The Armenian genocide was commissioned by the Jewish Anglo-Saxon mafia.”]
And: “I was over in Moscow two years ago and I will tell you – you can get along with those people and get along with them well.”
And: “We’re going to have a great relationship with Putin and Russia.”
Asked how he felt about the cull of journalists in Russia, Trump replied: “Now, I think it would be despicable if that took place, but I haven’t seen any evidence that he [Putin] killed anybody in terms of reporters.” At least 40 murders ‘in terms of reporters’ had taken place by then, and the victims’ names were all over the US press.
When queried about Putin ordering the Litvinenko murder, Trump said: “In all fairness to Putin – I don’t know. You know, and I’m not saying this because he says, ‘Trump is brilliant and leading everybody’ – the fact is that, you know, he hasn’t been convicted of anything.” [Does Trump think Putin could be tried and convicted in Russia while still in office? If he does, he’s too ignorant about America’s enemies to be president.]
Trump’s tweet on the leaked documents from the Democratic National Convention: “The new joke in town is that Russia leaked the disastrous DNC emails, which should never have been written (stupid), because Putin likes me.”
And then an obvious lie (July, 2016): “I don’t know who Putin is. He said one nice thing about me. He said I’m a genius. I said, ‘Thank you very much’ to the newspaper, and that was the end of it.”
So far Trump hasn’t uttered a single critical word about Putin. Many such words have been uttered in Congress, which managed to override the president’s vigorous protests to push through several packages of anti-Russian sanctions.
That, however, happened not because of Trump, but in spite of him. So far he has managed to stall the most sweeping sanctions from taking effect. All in all, his obvious pro-Putin stance is deeply immoral, even if it doesn’t violate the letter of the law.
Even now, when Trump has supposedly been exonerated, he hasn’t revised his stance publicly. All one hears from him is triumphalist braggadocio, which again brings into question his fitness for the office.
The Mueller report shows that Putin’s Russia actively subverted US presidential elections. That means Putin tried to subvert the US Constitution, which Trump has taken an oath to defend.
One would think that, as a minimum, a stern rebuke is in order, ideally accompanied by another batch of sanctions. If no such developments occur, it’s possible that Trump displayed clairvoyance when commenting on the announcement of the Mueller inquiry: “Now I’m f***ed!” Which of course doesn’t necessarily mean convicted.