The Next Shoes to Drop After the Mueller Report

The Next Shoes to Drop After the Mueller Report
AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz
The Next Shoes to Drop After the Mueller Report
AP Photo/Sait Serkan Gurbuz
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Footwear aplenty will fall as more details from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report are disclosed. The reckoning will come in several baskets and will fall on Democrats and Republicans alike, with major ramifications for 2020.

Basket No. 1: More information about the Mueller Report and the basis for its conclusions.

The public wants that information and deserves it. Democrats will cry “coverup” if they don’t get everything. While Republicans emphasize “no collusion,” Democrats will concentrate their attention on Mueller’s indecision regarding President Trump’s possible obstruction of justice. Democrats will press Attorney General William Barr about the special counsel’s ambiguous conclusion—and Barr’s own definitive one--about the obstruction issue. Other Trump critics, who heretofore have described Bob Mueller as a modern-day Eliot Ness, will start crying, “Whitewash!”

There are four potential obstacles to releasing the entire report and underlying evidence. Some of it may be classified, some protected by grand jury secrecy, and some may reflect badly on people Mueller declined to charge. The president could also claim executive privilege, but probably won’t because doing so is perilous politically.

Perilous, too, is the Democrats’ insistent demand for transparency. The investigation was thorough – and lasted more than the first half of Trump’s four-year term. More evidence might only reinforce Trump’s claim he’s entirely innocent. He’ll pound that home.

Basket No. 2: Will House Democrats push ahead with other investigations of Trump?

The short answer is: Yes. The big decision is how long they will keep it up. The liberal donor base loves it, but most voters do not. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi knows that and wants to protect her majority, which depends on swing districts. But she can’t control the party’s vocal left wing or its independent committee chairs, particularly Jerry Nadler and Adam Schiff.

Basket No. 3: Expect serious backlash as voters ask, “Who led us down this rabbit hole?”

Average voters—not on the extremes in either party—are bound to ask that question. The Democrats and their media allies have made “Russia Collusion” their top story line for two years. If they persist on that course instead of focusing on health care, income inequality, and foreign enemies, they look like Inspector Javert, or, worse, Inspector Clouseau.

The mainstream media are already badly damaged. They followed the same path and, in the process, obliterated the once-sacred line between reporting and opinion.

Basket No. 4: Did the FBI, Department of Justice, and intelligence agencies commit their own wrongdoing?

This final basket overflows with shoes that could drop. The cascade may well begin with three upcoming reports from DoJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz likely to result in grand jury investigations. So will the documents that Trump could declassify and release. (He’s been waiting for the Mueller investigation to end.) To restore faith in the rule of law, prosecutions cannot be seen as political retaliation. Accountability for law enforcement and intelligence agencies should be pursued by apolitical career prosecutors and made as transparent as possible.

The slap-dash investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email shenanigans must be thoroughly reviewed. Her aides received unprecedented immunity without giving evidence; their computers and cellphones were destroyed; and the principal herself was cleared before an interview with her was conducted. Who really made the decision not to prosecute? James Comey says he did. But FBI lawyer Lisa Page testified under oath that the order came from the Department of Justice. This discrepancy must be resolved, along with the obvious questions raised by the original decision.  How high up did it go? Did it reach the Obama White House?

Who unmasked the countless U.S. citizens whose names came up during foreign surveillance operations? Who illegally leaked them? Expect to learn about FBI and intelligence agencies’ efforts to penetrate the Trump campaign. Who was behind it? On what evidence did they base it?

We also need to know a lot more about the warrant to spy on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. He is a U.S. citizen, entitled to those protections, and had cooperated freely with our intelligence community. But the FBI decided on secret surveillance. It came up empty.

Was the surveillance warrant against Page obtained on false pretenses? This would be the case if the foreign intelligence court (FISA) was given inaccurate, incomplete, and unverified information. That is almost certainly what happened, and the evidence needs to be fleshed out. How important was the “Russian dossier” compiled by Christopher Steele at the direction of Glenn Simpson and Fusion GPS? Why wasn’t its funding by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee disclosed to the courts? Why didn’t the warrant-seekers disclose Steele’s bias, which was known to the FBI? Why did top law-enforcement officials certify the dossier as verified when it was not? To compound this mess, why wasn’t the court given exculpatory evidence, as required?

While the court was being told one thing, Donald Trump was being told another. Comey specifically told Trump the dossier was not verified. That’s not in dispute. Nor is the leak that immediately followed the briefing. Until then, media outlets had declined to mention the dossier because it looked so unreliable. A presidential briefing made it newsworthy. The story was bound to damage Trump, which was apparently the reason for the briefing. This matters not only because the leak was illegal but because it appears to have been part of a coordinated effort by law-enforcement agencies to undermine a presidential candidate and duly-elected president. We need to know what happened—all of it—and then hold people accountable. If laws need to be changed to prevent its repetition, pass them.

After all this time, the FBI still refuses to say what started the Trump investigations. It won’t say if agents tried to entrap people associated with the campaign. It won’t say why it did not warn Trump that Russians might be trying to penetrate his campaign. Contrast that with the kid-glove treatment of Dianne Feinstein, ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, when her driver was found to be a Chinese spy. She was privately informed and the staffer quietly removed.

Those are major, unanswered questions. They are central to the rule of law, and there are far too many of them. The answers are likely to pose serious problems for top officials in President Obama’s DoJ, FBI, and intelligence agencies.

A boatload of shoes is about to drop.

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at

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