'Beyond the Scope'? Seriously?

'Beyond the Scope'?  Seriously?
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
'Beyond the Scope'?  Seriously?
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
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The much-touted testimony of Special Counsel Robert Mueller before the House judiciary and intelligence committees last week yielded little beyond what was already in the “confidential” report Mueller submitted to the attorney general (and that has largely been made public).  But there was one dramatic revelation from the testimony that should give every American pause, because it reveals not only a complete dereliction of duty on the part of the special counsel and his team of crack prosecutors, but also one of the greatest political scandals in American history.

When asked about meetings between Glenn Simpson, the co-founder and president of Fusion GPS, and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, whose clients include high-ranking Russian officials, that occurred both the day before and the day after Veselnitskaya’s 20-minute meeting at the Trump Tower in New York with Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, Mueller declined to answer because the question was, he claimed, “beyond the scope” of his investigation.  This is stunning, for it revealed that Mueller and his team believed they were tasked only with investigating Russian contacts with the Trump campaign, not Russian interference in the 2016 election more broadly.  

The actual appointment letter, signed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on May 17, 2017, in his capacity as acting attorney general, asserts that the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller was made “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”  It authorized the special counsel to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James Comey in testimony before the House intelligence committee on March 20, 2017, “including” the following:

(i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; 

(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and

(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R., [section] 600.4(a).

Mueller’s “beyond the scope” testimony indicates that he and his team limited themselves to subsection (i), ignoring not only subsections (ii) and (iii) but also the key word, “including.”  In other words, contrary to the explicit purpose of the appointment “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” the investigation was conducted from the get-go as an anti-Trump effort.

Why is this so significant?  The Glenn Simpson meetings with Veselnitskaya demonstrate that there may actually have been a conspiracy involving Russians and one of the 2016 presidential campaigns, but it was the Hillary Clinton campaign, not the Donald Trump campaign.  Here are some of the additional confirmed factual pieces of that “Russian interference” puzzle, which apparently Mueller and his team declined to investigate.  

  • Fact 1:  The Clinton campaign and the Democrat National Committee paid the Perkins Coie law firm millions of dollars for “legal services” (as reported on Federal Election Commission filings).  
  • Fact 2: Hundreds of thousands of dollars of that sum were funneled to Fusion GPS for opposition research, in violation of federal election reporting requirements.  
  • Fact 3:  Fusion GPS hired former British spy Christopher Steele to prepare an opposition research “dossier” on then-candidate Donald Trump.  
  • Fact 4: In discussions with a U.S. State Department official, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Kathleen Kavalec, Steele indicated that his sources for the dossier included Vyacheslav Trubnikov, the former head of the Russian intelligence service, and Vladislav Surkov, former deputy prime minister of the Russian Federation and a close adviser to Russian President Vladimir Putin. 
  • Fact 5: The Steele dossier was relied on (at least in part) to obtain from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants to spy on members of the Trump presidential campaign.
  • Fact 6: The same Glenn Simpson who headed the Fusion GPS efforts to obtain the Russian-sourced dossier from ex-British spy Steele met with Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer with close ties to high-ranking Russian officials, on the day before and the day after the Trump Tower meeting she had with Trump campaign officials offering (but never producing) promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

By all appearances, then, it was the Hillary Clinton campaign that obtained information from Russian sources, and that information was used by the Department of Justice in the Obama administration to spy on the opposing political party.  How anyone could contend that this information was “beyond the scope” of an investigation looking into Russian interference is beyond credulity.  And yet that is precisely what Mueller claimed during the hearing.

One can only hope that further Justice Department investigations already underway will expose this scandal for what it is – an elaborate ruse to use Russian sources and an ex-British intelligence officer to create an excuse to spy on the opposing presidential campaign, not by private burglars (as was the case with the Watergate scandal), but by high-ranking officials of our own government at the DoJ and the FBI.  

John C. Eastman is the Henry Salvatori Professor of Law & Community Service, and former dean, at Chapman University’s Fowler School of Law, and a senior fellow at The Claremont Institute, where he heads the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence.

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