The Mueller Report: What its findings may mean for democracy

The Mueller Report: What its findings may mean for democracy

As the wait goes on to find out what's in the Mueller Report, think about this: in spite of non-stop vilification from President Trump (think "Witch hunt!" and "Hoax" and "No collusion!"), Robert Mueller wasn't fired. He was able to finish what he was tasked to do.

"The charge was fairly simple: find out what connections, if any, and what coordination, if any, there was between the Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 election and the campaign of Donald Trump," said Michael Duffy, an opinion editor at the Washington Post. He watched as the "fairly simple" turned into incredibly complex.

"I don't think there's any question that this is the biggest investigation of a sitting administration and a president since Watergate," Duffy said.

Mueller was appointed special counsel in May of 2107, eight days after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey – and then told NBC News anchor Lester Holt why:

"When I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, 'You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story,'" Mr. Trump said.

What most Americans didn't know at the time was that the FBI had already been investigating Trump-Russia connections for nearly a year.

Investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, who co-wrote a book about Russian intervention in the 2016 election called "Russian Roulette," said, "The FBI collected evidence that it found troubling on a number of fronts. They learned about the conversation that George Papadopoulos, a Trump campaign foreign policy advisor, had had with an Australian diplomat in London in which he seemed to boast about the knowledge that the Russians had 'dirt' of Hillary Clinton in the form of emails."

Investigators began connecting the dots … the Russian hack of the Democratic National Committee … Wikileaks' dumps of the stolen documents ...

"When you put that on top of everything else we knew about Donald Trump's efforts to do business in Russia, it did begin to indicate that there might be something really serious there in terms of the relationship between Donald Trump and the Kremlin," said Isikoff.

And then there was the "Trump-Putin thing": candidate, then President Trump's praise of the Russian leader.

Americans viewed the Mueller investigation through the lens of their politics, 24/7; different cable channels, different realities, different takes on whether former British spy Christopher Steele's salacious dossier, or the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting proved collusion with the Russians, or not.

For politics junkies it was like reality TV; for everybody else, noise.

As Paul Manafort and Roger Stone and Rick Gates and Michael Cohen and Michael Flynn, one-by-one, became part of Mueller's headcount, 34 people have been indicted, convicted, or have pleaded guilty to crimes, including 26 Russians.

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Twelve Books

Mueller has remained silent throughout his investigation; his court filings have done his talking.

"The Russians really did interfere in our election; there's no question about that," said Isikoff. "And Robert Mueller, if he has done nothing else, has established that beyond any reasonable doubt in the indictments he's brought."

As Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said when charges were brought against Russian intelligence figures, "The indictment alleges that the Russian conspirators want to promote discord in the United States and undermine confidence in Democracy. We must not allow them to succeed."

And something to remember as the frenzy over what the Mueller report does or doesn't say about President Trump begins:

"Is there a risk that the real issue of Russian intervention (or any other country's intervention) in our political system will get lost in the politics of pro and anti-Trump?" Teichner asked.

"Yes, is the short answer!" Isikoff laughed. "Yes, there is a real risk that if we just look at this through a partisan lens, we will be missing the big picture."

Duffy reiterated, "Our democracy is at risk. It really is threatened. If we have our choices manipulated by outsiders, people with agendas, governments and countries with agendas, then we don't really have much of a democracy at all. And that's really the biggest issue at stake as we talk this weekend about what's in this report."

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Story produced by Mark Hudspeth.