Understanding the Mueller Report’s Limitations and Purpose


Cliff Owen/Associated Press

Grace Fiori, Senior Editor

It began on Wednesday, May 17, 2017. The day the Department of Justice appointed a Special Counsel, to investigate potential Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election, and the possible involvement of the Trump Campaign in these findings. These were a continuation of FBI investigations into the Russian government that had began during the 2016 presidential campaign.

22 months later the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, has become a household name and Americans have routinely tuned in to their evening news to view the latest leaks and findings from the investigation. 22 months later, and in everybody’s hands now sits a finished, though redacted, version of Mueller’s report on this investigation. 22 months later and Americans have some of their questions answered.

So, why is the Mueller Report not the tell-all revelation we waited for? Firstly, it was never supposed to be anything of the sort. As Mueller himself stated, he looked into only some aspects of the evolving and tumultuous Russia- Trump affair, “Russian interference, the 2016 campaign, and obstruction of justice.” Beyond these areas, Mueller often redirected information he had received to other investigators, and the results and final decisions are forthcoming.

In many ways, Mueller was also restricted by the language used to craft his position and the investigation, as well as previous decisions made by the Justice Department. He was appointed to investigate, “…links or coordination,” between Russian officials and members of the Trump Campaign. Mueller’s team interpreted coordination in terms of a criminal prosecution, because both coordination and collusion are not rigidly defined legal terms and cannot be the basis for an criminal investigation. “Like collusion, ‘coordination’ does not have a settled definition in federal criminal law. We understood coordination to require an agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

These terms drew a bar for which the evidence was required to reach to determine a concrete conclusion of criminal activity by members of Trump’s campaign. Coordination, Mueller states, “…requires more than the two parties taking actions that were informed by or responsive to the other’s actions or interests.” While there was undoubtedly contact and even influence between the two parties, members of the Trump Campaign did not act in such a way that met this determination.

Secondly, Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department to present findings for the Justice Department. This is not an investigation into whether President Trump should be impeached or whether he is a criminal. This also means that William Barr, the Attorney General, has complete control over what information to release, even though he did release the report in full this April, it contained redacted portions related to ongoing investigations or matters of personal privacy. Now that is has been released, in one form or another, it is simply a testament to what happened. It may be used by Congress during their own investigations into Russian interference and Mueller may even be called to testify, if permitted by Barr.

Lastly, because of previous determination by the Justice Department and conclusions that it would cause a long delay to the investigation, Mueller did not get the President’s testimony on the evidence he had collected. “Ultimately, while we believed that we had the authority and legal justification to issue a grand jury subpoena to obtain the President’s testimony, we chose not to do so. We made that decision in view of the substantial delay that such an investigative step would likely produce at a late stage in our investigation. We also assessed that based on the significant body of evidence we had already obtained of the President’s actions and his public and private statements describing or explaining those actions, we had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the President’s testimony.” But, without his testimony, we will truly never know what were President Trump’s intentions behind these actions throughout the 2016 campaign and his presidency.

Even though this may not be the final word on the 2016 campaign, Mueller leaves open room to continue investigations. Mueller made the decision not to attempt criminal charges against the President because, as determined by the Justice Department, a sitting President cannot be indicted. This means that a president cannot be brought to trial for being charged with a crime. In part because of this, Mueller said he would not charge Trump because he would be unable to defend himself in court against this charge. However, Mueller does not absolve Trump and his associates of “collusion” or coordination, “ If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

22 months and we now have answers to things we were not aware of, and more questions to things we may never know. However, what we do know, thanks to the Mueller investigation, is that Trump is not exonerated and Russia did have substantial involvement in the 2016 election.

The Mueller report was not final in what happened and what will happen surrounding Russia and President Trump. But, despite its limited abilities in providing the American people with a comprehensive narrative of what occurred, the Mueller report reveals a wealth of important information. For in it we see an issue that is absolutely dangerous to the functioning of our nation, the involvement of a foreign government in our democratic process. 22 months, and many more to go, before the American people get the truth in full.