Mueller Report has people “Russian” to the Exits – Sunday Political Brunch March 31, 2019


CHARLESTON, W. Va. – It may be the most anti-climactic event in my 42 years of covering American politics. The widely anticipated report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which we are told will eventually be several hundred pages long, landed with a thud on the nation’s political doorstep last weekend. There are many implications, especially for Campaign 2020, which is already upon us. Let’s “brunch” on that this week:

“What it Said” – “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the special counsel wrote in his four-page summary report to Attorney General William Barr.

“What it Didn’t Say” – Some folks are trying to read between the lines on additional comments from Mueller and Barr: “For each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leave unresolved what the special counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction,” Barr wrote to Congress. “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,’” said Barr. So, while they found nothing, and their work is done, it leaves the barndoor open for others, i.e. Congress, to keep looking.

“A Senator Weighs In” – This week I got to interview Senator Shelley Moore Capito, (R) West Virginia, for her reaction on the Mueller Report. Capito was among several Republicans who did not oppose the Russia investigation in the first place. "I was very supportive of the Special Counsel. I thought it should come to its natural conclusion which it did. And basically, what it says is that neither the President, nor his campaign, colluded with the Russians in the 2016 election, cut and dry,” said Senator Capito. She added, “I think clearly this is a time to put this topic behind us and move on in the important issues we talk about every day.”

“Full Disclosure” – As a First Amendment practitioner, I am an ardent supporter of full-disclosure and transparency. At a time reasonably soon, I would like to see the full Mueller Report made available to Congress, the public, and the press. Remember, it’s not really Mueller’s report, it is “our” report. Yes, redactions should be made in any instance where there is a national security concern, or protections in any ongoing legal matter, but what we don’t need is page after page of blacked out material. Just put it out there in the sunshine and let people evaluate for themselves.

“2020 Issue?” – There will be a lot of strategizing behind the scenes, especially by Democrats, in terms of how to frame this in the 2020 presidential and congressional elections. And on the Republican side you’ll hear chants of this being complete exoneration. I would suggest, that to most voters, this issue is over. Time and time again we note that people vote on “kitchen table” issues. How is my economic well-being? Is my community and country safe? Do I have health insurance? Can we afford to send the kids to college? Yes, people also want to know that elections are fair and protected, but this report may have eased that worry. If I’m a candidate for either party for 2020, I’d stick to “bread and butter” issues.

“Bob Dole 1996” – Whether or not the Trump-Russia investigation becomes a central campaign issue in 2020 remains to be seen, but I have my doubts. Back in 1996 when Congressional Republicans were still investigating Bill and Hillary Clinton’s complicated Whitewater land deal in Arkansas, Senator Bob Dole was asked if he’d make Whitewater a big campaign issue. I’m paraphrasing him here, but Dole was blunt and said something to the effect of, “I can’t make an issue out of something you can’t explain in 30 seconds. It’s not a bumper sticker.” He was right and the same may hold true in 2020 on Russia. As a campaign issue, I don’t think it has staying power

“Impeachment Full Speed Ahead” – Despite what I say about this not being a central political issue in 2020, I fully anticipate Democrats will go full-bore with their investigations, and even start an impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee. If nothing else, many Democrats are looking for “payback” on the 1998 impeachment proceedings against President Clinton. As President Lyndon Johnson famously said, “In Washington, D.C., we keep score.”

“The Big Picture” – Set your partisan politics aside for a moment. Set your love or disdain for President Trump and his Democratic opponents in Congress aside for a moment. Realize this fact: Russia clearly attempted to interfere and influence the U.S. presidential election in 2016. Russia also tried to manipulate and interfere in the 2018 midterm elections. And rest assured it will happen again in 2020. There is indisputable, rock-solid evidence within the cyber security and intelligence communities to back this up. A lot of the influence peddling is done on social media and the internet where it’s open season like the wild, wild west. I am among those that believe cyber-terrorism – including election meddling - is one of the greatest threats we face right now. The next big war will be fought online, not on the traditional battlefield.

What are your concerns about the 2020 election? Click the comment button on this page or email me at

Mark Curtis, Ed.D., is the Chief Political Reporter for the five Nexstar Media TV stations serving West Virginia and the five surrounding states, plus most of the Washington, D.C media market.

© 2019, Mark Curtis Media, LLC.

Photo courtesy: Getty Images

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