Political and intelligence experts said they think the United States Attorney General’s assessment of an investigation into President Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with the Russian government may be misleading, at a Hammer Museum event Wednesday.
Malcolm Nance, a counterterrorism and intelligence analyst, Asha Rangappa, a former FBI special agent and CNN counterintelligence analyst, and Scott Horton, a legal expert, joined moderator Ian Masters, a journalist and political radio host, to assess the impact of the recently released Mueller report.
Robert Mueller, former FBI director and a special counsel for the investigation, began the probe into interactions between Russia and Trump’s presidential campaign for signs of collusion in 2017.
He turned in his completed report to Attorney General William Barr on March 22, who stated in a letter to Congress the investigators could not charge Trump or the administration of criminal collusion or obstruction of justice.
Barr added that while there were no criminal charges, the report doesn’t completely exonerate Trump of all charges.
The panelists challenged this verdict, suggesting instead Trump and many of his associates had incriminating ties to the Russian government that would have been heavily prosecuted under a different administration.
Nance said Trump’s marriage to Ivana Trump, whose father was associated with the KGB, the former Soviet Union’s security agency, began a long history of the Russian government collecting information about Trump.
He said records of Donald Trump Jr., Michael Flynn Jr. and Jared Kushner meeting with Russian officials also connect the administration to the Russian government, which he added under normal circumstances, would be considered treasonous.
“There appears to have been a waiver for this White House,” Nance said.
Rangappa said it is important to draw the distinction between criminal conspiracy and counterintelligence. She said Mueller may have not found a place to file criminal charges, but that does not absolve the administration of all collusion with the Russian government.
“If you are then trying to cover up what Mueller has found in a two-year investigation, you are now, at best, throwing your reputation away,” she said. “At worst, engaging in criminal activity.”
The panel also agreed Barr’s reluctance to share the full report or elaborate on its findings was indicative of a larger scheme.
Horton said he thinks Barr is delaying the release of the report to build public distrust in its findings.
He added he suspects the report has reached the Trump administration due to Barr’s refusal to answer questions about whether the White House had seen the report.
“Barr is now dissembling about the report in his four-page letter, clearly misleading people about what it says, and refusing to provide it for Congress, although I think it was written intentionally very clearly for Congress, but providing the information to people who should absolutely not be seeing it,” he said. “That’s egregious conduct.”
Rangappa said one of the goals of the Russian administration is to erode U.S. citizens’ faith in the country’s governmental institutions. She added this should not discourage the U.S. public, but should serve as a call to hold the government accountable and continue civic engagement.
She added the public should be optimistic because political activism has been at a high in recent years, and people have become more willing to vote, protest and educate themselves.
Nance said the burden falls on the people to help convince the government of the gravity of the administration’s errors.
Horton said public opinion could have a crucial impact on the government’s response to this issue.
“The fact that people pay attention to this, read, stand up and speak, that makes all the difference at the end of the day,” he said.