Day 6

Not criminal but 'certainly crazy': Journalist says Mueller report is still shocking

National security reporter Marcy Wheeler says although Mueller didn't charge Trump, the evidence is damning.

Findings 'will reveal what a shallow, vile man that Donald Trump is,' says Marcy Wheeler

A redacted version of Robert Mueller's report on the investigation into Russian interference on the 2016 U.S. presidential election was publicly released on Thursday. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EFE/EPA)

Even though Robert Mueller's investigation into the U.S. president's ties to Russia found no criminal wrongdoing, Donald Trump isn't totally off the hook, says national security journalist Marcy Wheeler.

A redacted, 448-page copy (PDF link) of Mueller's report was made public on Thursday. In it, Mueller details several links between Trump and Russian officials, but did not find adequate evidence for a charge of conspiracy.

However, Wheeler says that Americans should be considering what it means for that country's democracy if the president's actions are not considered illegal.

Wheeler, who has read the report, spoke with Day 6 host Brent Bambury about the findings and what they mean for the possibility of impeachment.

Here's part of that conversation.

The president says he is celebrating the Mueller Report. Now that you've read it, do you think his celebration is justified?

I think he has reason to celebrate what a good cover up artist his attorney general is, but the report is damning.

You've been anticipating this report for a long time now. What is the most surprising thing in the report for you?

I think it puts Donald Trump more centrally involved in some of the coordination efforts on emails.

So, for example, he is the one who pushed Roger Stone to coordinate with WikiLeaks. We see that there are more witnesses to him taking phone calls from, presumably, Stone and hanging up and having non-public information about WikiLeaks.

He ordered Flynn to engage in one of the most inappropriate activities on there to go try and reach out to foreign intelligence services, or on the dark web, to find Hillary's deleted emails from her server. Crazy effort.

It wasn't found to be criminal, but it was certainly crazy.

The 448-page report was and immediately devoured by lawyers and political observers who have been waiting 23 months to read it. (Albert Leung/CBC)

And what do these details, now that they've come to light in the report ... tell you about how credible Attorney General William Barr's read of events was from the summary memo that he produced when Mueller delivered the report to his press conference on Thursday?

We already knew that he was spinning. It's clear that the Trump campaign was very happy and, at times, optimized the power of the Russian attack on Hillary Clinton.

And it's also clear that Mueller developed a lot of evidence to support conspiracy or coordination charges, just not that he could charge beyond a reasonable doubt.

The conclusion on [Donald Trump Jr.] appears to be [that] he was too stupid to conspire. He didn't understand the law, and so therefore isn't going to be charged because … he would get up there and just claim that he was too stupid and that would be utterly credible because we all know that he's none too bright.

I think [the report] will reveal what a shallow, vile man that Donald Trump is. The question is, 'Where is the state of the American republic by the time we get there?'- Marcy Wheeler, national security journalist

But the inconclusiveness of Mueller's findings did allow Barr to spin this from the very beginning. And media and commentators, especially after the first Barr memo, were criticized for overplaying what Mueller might have on Donald Trump.

You were one of the people that was criticized personally for this. Now that you've read the report, what do you make of that criticism?

Mueller designed his report on obstruction to be an impeachment referral, which means [the Department of Justice] has no constitutional grounds to weigh in. It goes to [the House Judiciary Committee], they weigh in.

Barr and [Rod] Rosenstein heard that on March 4 and started panicking, and they set up what they did on March 22 and 24, which is to weigh in — to put their thumbs on the scale — in a highly inappropriate manner.

Later that week, March 29, is the first time that Barr gave Trump the report, ostensibly to invite him to claim executive privilege. Totally inappropriate.

He gave him a second version of the report earlier after the final redacted version was put into place. And then he waited until the Thursday before a holiday weekend to release it, gave a ridiculous press conference and then waited another hour and a half before the press actually got it.

So, it was very orchestrated and very much an attempt to undercut what the report, by all appearances is, which is an impeachment referral to the House Judiciary Committee.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr characterized Mueller's findings on several different occasions before releasing the special counsel's report to Congress and the public. (Aaron P. Bernstein/Reuters)

The evidence in the document is striking, but then there's the media narrative that Trump and his attorney general and his team have created which is no collusion, no obstruction. If these two forces go toe-to-toe, what happens?

It doesn't settle anything. Bill Barr, if he cared about America, could have done this in such a way that the outcome would put some closure to this issue.

And instead he's done everything to stoke it, including last week's congressional appearance where he fed the hoax that Trump was spied on and suggested he was going to open up an investigation into the people who opened this investigation.

One of the examples — one of the excuses — he gave for why Trump couldn't be found guilty of obstructing justice is that he was frustrated, and being frustrated is not an excuse for committing a crime.

It is utterly appalling to see the attorney general stand there and say, you know, 'I'm going to let the most powerful man in the world off of committing multiple crimes because he was frustrated.'

So, here is Mueller's legal document, and now the door is open for Congress to make the call on obstruction of justice; on impeachment. What do you think will happen?

I think it will depend on what people see in the unredacted documents.

So, the House Judiciary, Senate Judiciary and the Gang of Eight, are all going to be able to see a mostly unredacted version of this report.

They'll be able to see the Stone information, for example. Part of it depends on whether the House Judiciary Committee can get the underlying exhibits.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks on during an event recognizing the Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride in the East Room of the White House on April 18, 2019. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

But I also think a lot depends on what other things happen in the near future. Investigations into Stone and Manafort [are] both ongoing. There are 14 referrals in the report and some of those likely implicate people very close to the president.

I don't expect that this report, by itself, would sustain an impeachment inquiry, partly because we're already in the presidential election season and Democrats can win running on bread and butter issues.

But, I also think that ... the House Judiciary Committee will make moves towards holding the president accountable, not least in case he wins — then they can then they can launch it in his second term.

In the report, Mueller writes that this document is also an historical record. What do you think it will look like to future eyes?

I think it will reveal what a shallow, vile man that Donald Trump is. The question is, 'Where is the state of the American republic by the time we get there?'

This was really exceptional cuddling up to a foreign adversary so as to get an electoral advantage. That's what this report shows.

Was it illegal? Mueller couldn't charge it. But it's a question for America, regarding its democracy, that this much wrong stuff is not illegal.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity. To hear the full interview with Marcy Wheeler, download our podcast or click 'Listen' at the top of this page.