July 31, 2018

IntelBrief: The Specter – and Reality – of the Russia Investigation 

Amid President Donald Trump's repeated criticism of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation, the Senate Judiciary Committee works on a bipartisan bill to protect the special counsel should Trump try to fire him, on Capitol Hill in Washington (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite).
  • The ongoing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election is nearing a tipping point.
  • The President and his supporters are attacking the Special Counsel, with some even suggesting ‘collusion’ is not a crime.
  • S. foreign policies that have nothing to do with Russia are now viewed by many as being somehow tainted or influenced by Moscow.
  • Notions of an independent judiciary and a free press – the very beliefs underpinning the foundational idea of the United States – are being threatened.


On July 31, Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Trump’s 2016 campaign, will go on trial. He is being brought up on charges by Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel appointed to investigate Russian interference – as well as collusion with that interference by U.S. entities – into the 2016 U.S. elections. The Manafort case, the first Mueller indictment to go to trial, is not directly about the coordinated campaign by Russia to affect the outcome of the U.S. presidential electionit is about illegal financial dealings by Manafort, who is closely tied to Russian officials and Russian money.

The upcoming trial has catapulted to a new level the already intense media coverage and public speculation about the Mueller investigation. President Trump has used his Twitter account – his tweets are considered official White House statements – to angrily denounce the investigation and the investigators ,specifically Mueller. The Manafort trial is expected to shed more light on the many connections between Trump campaign officials and associates and the Russian government. As seen most recently with Maria Butina, the woman charged with being an illegal agent of the Russian government, there are significant channels of access between Russian actors and U.S. political figures.

To get in front of this expected spotlight on illegal dealings and Russian connections, the President and his supporters have continually attacked some of the most foundational aspects of the U.S. systemincluding the notion of an independent judiciary, a free and robust press, and a non-partisan civil service. Cries of ‘fake news’ and ‘deep state’ on one side and ‘treason’ on the other are resonating among their targeted audience. It is likely that a sizable percentage of the U.S. population will dismiss outright any result from the Mueller investigation. Putting aside the eventual findings of the Mueller investigation, the damage to the country is already substantial and lasting. A healthy sense of distrust of power is something of a constant in the history of the U.S.; however, what is happening today amounts almost to a questioning of the very ideas and ideals upon which the United States was built.

The reality is the campaign of influence and disinformation waged by Russia has had a serious and lasting impact on the United StatesThe specter of Russian interference is such that U.S. foreign policies that have nothing to do with Russia are now viewed by many as being somehow tainted or influenced by Moscow. For example, the ongoing catastrophe in Syria preceded the Mueller investigation and the very existence of a Trump administration, yet whatever the U.S. decides to do in Syria may be seen as somehow connected to Russian interests. The same may be said of a whole host of foreign policy issues, from counterterrorism to Afghanistan. The coming weeks and months will see even more focus on the findings of the Mueller investigation, with a corresponding shadow thrown over U.S. domestic concerns and foreign policy decisions.


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