The release of the Mueller report – a sprawling 448-page, two-volume document – has generated heated headlines on both the right and left. But what did it really prove? A recent opinion piece in the New York Times argues that it conclusively found President Donald Trump’s election campaign guilty of conspiring with the Russians in order to get him elected to high political office.
Jed Handelsman Shugerman, a law professor at Fordham University, writes that there is clear evidence the Trump campaign worked with Russia.
Attorney General William Barr has stated the investigation does not conclusively prove there was any conspiracy. Trump has used the released Mueller report as a vindication of his claim that the investigation was a “witch hunt.” But, as Mr. Shugerman writes, the Mueller investigation has concluded members of Trump’s campaign staff did work with Russia. Why is this the case?
The campaign did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was criminal activity, but it has illustrated a clear pattern of coordination to influence the 2016 election in Trump’s favor.
Mr. Shugerman says that the Mueller report can be understood on two levels: as an application of criminal law to clearly established facts. The report explains its legal reasoning for the prosecution decisions that have been made. The Mueller report holds itself to a high standard for investigation, and thus does not claim to have found proof of collusion beyond a reasonable doubt. Part of the issue is also steps that witnesses took to delete or modify potential evidence by using encryption software and deleting emails.
However, because there was no proof of an underlying crime, obstruction through this material tampering of evidence also means it’s impossible to conclusively prove there was a conspiracy. This hampered the investigation.
Although the Mueller investigation has concluded, it invites ongoing questions about the conduct of Trump, his family members and campaign staff.