Mueller ap­point­ment could be a Trump win

Move stems the grow­ing con­cern about pres­i­dent’s un­pre­dictable be­hav­iour

The Hamilton Spectator - - COM­MENT - TIM ARM­STRONG Tim Arm­strong, a lawyer and former On­tario deputy min­is­ter of In­dus­try and Trade, was agent gen­eral for the Asia Pa­cific re­gion. hel­liott@thes­

What a tan­gled web of idiocy and ap­par­ent in­com­pe­tence from the com­mand cen­tre of what is sup­posed to be the world’s most pow­er­ful and in­flu­en­tial na­tion.

The po­ten­tial neg­a­tive in­ter­na­tional im­pact of Trump’s be­hav­iour dur­ing the first four months of his pres­i­dency is pro­found. And the stakes for Canada are par­tic­u­larly high, in­clud­ing is­sues re­lat­ing to trade, the en­vi­ron­ment, our re­source sec­tor and not least, the Canada/ U.S. se­cu­rity in­ter­de­pen­dence.

So what is the im­pact of the U.S. Jus­tice De­part­ment’s ap­point­ment of former FBI di­rec­tor Robert Mueller as Spe­cial Coun­sel to over­see the Rus­sia/Trump cam­paign con­nec­tion, and in­evitably other mat­ters, in­clud­ing Trump’s pos­si­ble ob­struc­tion of jus­tice in his deal­ings with the dis­charged James Comey?

Is the Mueller ap­point­ment a pos­i­tive break­through as is claimed by most of the me­dia? Not nec­es­sar­ily. In fact, it could well be a life­saver for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first term.

Why? Mueller’s man­date is to de­ter­mine whether any of the many al­le­ga­tions out­stand­ing against Trump con­sti­tute crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties.

As in our le­gal sys­tem, the onus in U.S. crim­i­nal law is for the prose­cu­tion to prove the al­le­ga­tions beyond a rea­son­able doubt.

As past sim­i­lar ap­point­ments have shown — re­mem­ber the Starr White­wa­ter/Clin­ton al­le­ga­tions — in­quiries of this kind are in­evitably long and drawn out, with fre­quently in­con­clu­sive re­sults. More sig­nif­i­cantly, es­pe­cially in this sit­u­a­tion, they are con­ducted in pri­vate.

Trump will there­fore be shel­tered by the pri­vacy of the ex­tended Mueller pro­ceed­ings. He has al­ready con­demned the ap­point­ment but in my view in a de­lib­er­ately de­ceit­ful way.

In fact, the ap­point­ment will give him the time and breath­ing space to sep­a­rate him­self from the neg­a­tive me­dia drum­beat and get to work on his trou­ble­some pol­icy agenda — pro­tec­tion­ist trade ini­tia­tives; re­stric­tive im­mi­gra­tion laws (in­clud­ing “The Wall”); tax breaks for the busi­ness elite; fur­ther de­mo­li­tion of the Af­ford­able Care Act, and more.

What about the Con­gres­sional hear­ings un­der­way in the House and Se­nate? All are op­er­at­ing with Repub­li­can ma­jori­ties and it is very likely that those ma­jori­ties will, on any crit­i­cal is­sues, now de­fer to Mueller, es­pe­cially in light of the vir­tu­ally unan­i­mous — and no doubt de­served — praise and re­spect for Mueller’s ob­jec­tiv­ity and le­gal tal­ents.

And even if the Con­gres­sional com­mit­tees do pro­ceed and in some in­stances reach de­ci­sions crit­i­cal of Trump, few if any are pre­dict­ing that their po­ten­tial neg­a­tive con­clu­sions would come close to jus­ti­fy­ing even the com­mence­ment of im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

All of this raises se­ri­ous doubts about the White House’s claim that they were to­tally un­en­gaged and sur­prised by the Jus­tice De­part­ment’s Mueller ap­point­ment. It seems more likely that the pres­i­dent’s more as­tute ad­vis­ers were par­ties to this clever ma­noeu­ver and cor­rectly saw it as the best way to stem the grow­ing con­cern about the pres­i­dent’s un­pre­dictable, er­ratic be­hav­iour.

It is as­sumed that Mueller will be deal­ing first with the Putin con­nec­tion. The gen­eral as­sump­tion is that Putin hated Hil­lary Clin­ton and saw in Trump a leader who was more in­clined to favour U.S./ Rus­sian ac­com­mo­da­tion — less Amer­i­can con­cern, for ex­am­ple, with the Crimean an­nex­a­tion and the Rus­sian in­cur­sion in eastern Ukraine and a greater will­ing­ness to re­lax U.S. eco­nomic sanc­tions.

This anal­y­sis ig­nores the longer-term and much more se­ri­ous ob­jec­tive of the Putin-led regime — namely, to deepen and ex­ploit con­flict among the economies of the West by hav­ing the U.S. led by an in­ex­pe­ri­enced, to­tally un­pre­dictable pres­i­dent.

While much has changed since Ge­orge Ken­nan ar­tic­u­lated the post-war So­viet con­tain­ment pol­icy, his anal­y­sis of Rus­sian-led op­po­si­tion to the West re­mains ap­pli­ca­ble to Putin’s es­sen­tial goals. John Lewis Gad­dis’ re­mark­able bi­og­ra­phy of Ken­nan sets out the So­viet pol­icy and struc­ture as fol­lows.

The So­viet regime, says Ged­dis, func­tioned on two lev­els: a vis­i­ble one, where the diplo­matic for­mal­i­ties were ob­served and there was full par­tic­i­pa­tion in in­ter­na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tions; and an in­vis­i­ble one, where the ob­jec­tive was to com­bine with other like-minded na­tions and groups to “dis­rupt na­tional self-con­fi­dence” in the West, “ham­string (its) mea­sures of na­tional de­fence, in­crease so­cial and in­dus­trial un­rest (and) stim­u­late all forms of dis­unity.” Sound fa­mil­iar to to­day’s sit­u­a­tion?

Re­cently Putin was prom­i­nent in China, sup­port­ing Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping’s mas­sive multi-na­tion in­fra­struc­ture pro­ject, the “One Belt, One Road Ini­tia­tive,” along with most of the rest of Eura­sia as well other na­tions in­creas­ingly skep­ti­cal of U.S. lead­er­ship.

Forbes Mag­a­zine has named Putin “the world’s most pow­er­ful in­di­vid­ual” for each of the last three years. Lit­tle won­der that he looks and sounds so pleased, not only in the pic­tures of him­self, but with the ex­clu­sive Rus­sian pho­tos of his min­ions in­vited by Trump to the Oval Of­fice. Pre­sum­ably Mueller will deal with that bizarre oc­ca­sion as well.


Former-FBI di­rec­tor Robert Mueller lis­tens as he tes­ti­fies on Capi­tol Hill in Wash­ing­ton in this 2012 photo.

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