Glenn Greenwald vs. David Cay Johnston On Trump-Russia Ties, Obstruction


Robert Mueller's long-awaited report on President Trump's ties to Russia finally puts the "conspiracy theory" of collusion to rest, said journalist Glenn Greenwald on "Democracy Now!" during a debate with journalist David Cay Johnston. "Even Democrats know this is the end of the line with his entire three-year scandal that has drowned our politics and discourse."

"I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be impeached, because there aren’t the votes to convict him," Johnston replied. "But that Donald Trump was eager, and his son Don Jr. and others in his campaign were eager, to get help from the Russians, the report explicitly states."

GLENN GREENWALD: I don’t think there can be any question that the most significant finding has to be about the allegations that kicked off the entire saga almost three years ago, which was the two-pronged conspiracy theory that Donald Trump worked with, coordinated, collaborated and conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election and that Donald Trump is captive to Vladimir Putin as a result of a variety of blackmail, leverage and other forms of links that allow the Kremlin to dictate to the White House what it is that they’re supposed to do.

And I think it’s very important to point out from the outset that this was no ordinary investigation. The Democrats, the CIA, their allies in the media, who believed in this conspiracy theory, got exactly the prosecutor that they wanted, who everybody agreed was the man of the highest integrity and competence. He assembled a vast team of very aggressive prosecutors, FBI agents, forensic accountants, intelligence analysts. He had unlimited resources, the entire apparatus of the U.S. surveillance state at his disposal and 22 months to dig as deeply as he could dig to find out the answers to whether those conspiracy theories were or weren’t true. You can’t get a more sweeping or comprehensive investigation than that.

And he went through systematically each of the prongs of the conspiracy theories and found either that the evidence did not establish that they were true, or, in some cases, found the opposite, that in fact there was no evidence to support the theory at all and that the theory was simply false. One example of that is, for example—I think David mentioned this the last time we talked about it, as evidence that there was something sinister going on between the Russians and Trump—was the change to the GOP platform in mid-2016 to make it more favorable to the Russians by diluting the language about U.S. support for Ukraine. And at the time, I had always said, and said on the show the last time, that that was totally consistent with both Barack Obama and Donald Trump’s foreign policy, not to provoke Vladimir Putin by arming the Ukrainians. Mueller said this is done by some low-level aide, acting alone; there’s no evidence he coordinated it with even Donald Trump, let alone with the Russians or Vladimir Putin; and that it was just an attempt to conform the GOP platform to what Trump’s stated foreign policy was. And over and over and over, from the Trump Tower meeting to all of the post—Russian connections after both the convention and the election, Mueller used the same language over and over and over again, which is that there’s no evidence, or the evidence does not establish that these conspiracy theories actually happened.

Now, you can continue to believe in them. It sort of feels almost like arguing with people who have adopted religious beliefs, that they’re going to believe in their view of how the world works, no matter how much evidence you present them that it didn’t happen. But Democrats and proponents of this theory got what they wanted, which is the Mueller investigation, and now most of the Mueller report and his findings. And his findings are that he looked for 22 months as hard as he could and didn’t establish that these theories were true. And we already knew that because not one American was indicted or charged for conspiracy. But he went even beyond that and said the evidence doesn’t establish it.

On the obstruction issue, I think there’s a lot of evidence that Donald Trump is what we knew he was, which is an amoral liar, somebody who is willing to corruptly abuse his power to protect himself. But at the end of the day, the Democrat leaders in the House have already said they’re not going to impeach him over this. And the reason is, is because the question always was: Was Trump trying to stop the investigation because he genuinely believed that they were—it was based on a false conspiracy, or was he trying to stop the investigation because he knew he had done what people were accusing him of doing with the Russians and wanted to cover that up? And the Mueller report concluded it was the first instance: He was try to stop the investigation because he thought it was a sham all along, and therefore, even though he lied and acted improperly, it doesn’t rise to the corrupt intent needed to charge him with obstruction, which is stopping an investigation to prevent your own wrongdoing from being uncovered. And so, I think even Democrats know this is the end of the line with this entire three-year scandal that has drowned our politics in discourse.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, your takeaway from this report that was released, oh, about 20 hours ago, as of this broadcast?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, Amy, I agree with Glenn that Donald Trump is utterly unfit to hold office. But I think he is misreading what’s in the report. Mueller was charged with investigating to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt, a criminal standard. What he shows in the report is numerous contacts by the Russians trying to develop a relationship with the Trump campaign, the willingness of the Trump campaign and the eagerness of the Trump campaign to benefit from anything the Russians could do for them, including numerous contacts, some of them with known Russian spies. And Mueller writes something Glenn didn’t mention, that is very significant, near the top of his report: A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean that there was no evidence of those facts. There’s lots of evidence here of improprieties. Does it rise to the standard of a criminal conspiracy charge under federal law? No. Mueller says this is properly the duty of Congress. And the standard in our Constitution is that the president takes an oath to faithfully execute the laws. We have to expect our president to be totally and completely loyal to the interests of the United States. That’s why the word “emoluments” appears three times in our Constitution. And the standard is abuse of power, or, in the words of our Constitution, high crimes and misdemeanors.

Now, I don’t think Donald Trump is going to be impeached, because there aren’t the votes to convict him. But that Donald Trump was eager, and his son Don Jr. and others in his campaign were eager, to get help from the Russians, the report explicitly states. That the Russians were eager to make sure that Hillary Clinton didn’t win, that they help both Trump and Bernie Sanders, is clearly stated in the report. So, to suggest that there’s nothing here and we should forget all this and it’s corrupted our politics, Glenn and I just fundamentally disagree about that. I think this report makes very clear that Donald Trump behaved in ways that are not loyal to the United States. He urged his staff, contrary to what Attorney General Barr said about complete cooperation, to lie, to deny, to cover up, to destroy records. He would not sit for an interview. He would not respond to further questions. And the answers in writing that he provided are artful, lawyerly-like arguments that evade. That we can’t close the loop on a conspiracy between the very best Russians at intelligence and spying, with the head of a third-generation, white-collar crime family who spent his entire life lying and denying; has been found by judges, after testifying in trials, to give testimony that wasn’t incredible; that he had convenient lapses of memory—and let’s remember Donald Trump claims to have the best memory of any living human being—all of that points to simply the fact that Mueller found lots of evidence, but nowhere near enough to meet the criminal standard of beyond reasonable doubt. That’s why he specifically refers to Congress and that this falls under the duties of Congress to look into.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, your response to David?

GLENN GREENWALD: So, first of all, just as reminder, the Democrats control the House of Representatives, which is the body charged with impeaching President Trump. It’s the Senate that determines whether he ought to be convicted. So, in both of the cases of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, when impeachment charges were brought, there was a lot of uncertainty about whether convictions could be obtained. But the House did its duty, anyway, under the Constitution, which is, if you really believe that Donald Trump committed serious crimes, it’s the constitutional duty of the Democrats in the House to impeach Donald Trump and then present the arguments and the evidence to convince the public that he ought to be removed from office. And they’ve made clear they’re not going to do that. And I think that’s pretty revealing.

I also want to say that David actually mischaracterized both what I said and what the Mueller report said. So, I made very clear that, in some instances, Mueller did what he was charged to do, which is to say whether there was enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt in order to indict Trump and his family members and aides on the issue of conspiracy and collusion, and he found that there wasn’t. That’s incredibly significant. You can just brush that aside if you want, but we all know that everybody spent the last three years saying Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner are inevitably about to be arrested, and then none of that happened. But the reality—so, I didn’t leave that out. I specifically said that there was parts of the report where Mueller simply said there’s not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt.

But in other areas of the report, on collusion, Mueller went much further than that, to say not just that there’s not enough evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt, but that there’s no evidence at all that this happened. And the language that he used, which I’m going to have to read, since David claims that it isn’t in there, is that Mueller himself said, “in some instances, the report points out the absence of evidence … about a particular fact or event.” For example, he says the Internet Research Agency, the Russia-based trolling farm, used Facebook posts and tweets to try and disrupt the election. And he says, “The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation.” As I said, he made the same exact claim about the change to the GOP platform regarding Ukraine, that there was no evidence—not that it didn’t rise to the standard of beyond a reasonable doubt, that there was no evidence this was anything other than a low-level aide acting on his own to change the platform, without even the knowledge of Trump, let alone Putin, to conform it to Trump’s stated foreign policy. And the same is true with all of the attempts after the convention, once Trump was nominated, by Ambassador Kislyak to try and talk to the foreign policy officials within the Trump campaign. Mueller says, “The Office did not identify any evidence” in those interactions of coordination between the campaign and the Russian government. And I could read 10 more examples like that.

So, Mueller was not only charged with this cramped, narrow, legalistic, prosecutorial duty to say whether evidence rose to a standard of a beyond a reasonable doubt—which, again, even if he had only done that and concluded that not one American—not Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, not one American—was an agent of the Russian government while working for Trump, coordinated or conspired with the Trump—with the Russian government over the campaign, that would be incredibly fatal to everything the media has been doing and saying over the last three years. But he went well beyond that, as I just read, in multiple instances, and said that so much of what we were told just didn’t happen.

The BuzzFeed story about Michael Cohen telling Mueller that Trump told him to lie, BuzzFeed now admits that never happened. Paul Manafort visiting Julian Assange three times in the Ecuadorean Embassy, as The Guardian reported, that didn’t happen. Virtually the entirety of the Steele dossier, that there were these overwhelming, year-long contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia to plan the dissemination of disinformation—the fact that they were using Roger Stone, three weeks before the WikiLeaks release, to try and find out what was in those documents that WikiLeaks has, as Mike Isikoff himself, one of the proponents, the earliest proponents, of this conspiracy theory admitted, by itself proves that the Trump campaign wasn’t doing what the Steele dossier said, since had they been in bed with the Russians all year, they wouldn’t have needed Roger Stone, two weeks before the WikiLeaks release, to find out what was in the emails. They would have been a party to it. But they weren’t. The whole thing was false. It was a scam. It was a hoax.

And again, as I said, you can just throw up your hands and say, “Well, maybe Mueller just didn’t find the evidence.” I mean, how do you argue with somebody like that? Yeah, of course, I mean, maybe Robert Mueller, after 22 months, didn’t find all the smoking guns that are out there. But we can only deal with the reality that we have, which is the reality that was produced after an incredibly comprehensive investigation, a sweeping, invasive, powerful one, that was exactly what the Democrats said they wanted. And that evidence simply did not produce the evidence to substantiate the conspiracy theories we’ve been hearing for three years. And that reality will never, ever change.

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