By Arab News
By Ellen R. Wald*
Now that the US political scene is finally officially recovering from the Russia collusion fiasco, it seems important to review why it all happened and why it vindicated President Donald Trump.
To summarize, the issue began during the presidential election in 2016, when federal law enforcement (the FBI) investigated whether Trump and his campaign “colluded” with Russia to win the election based on a Hillary Clinton-funded dossier and conversations between a very low-level campaign volunteer and FBI informants. These accusations were widely leaked to the press and, in the spring of 2017, Robert Mueller was appointed as an independent counsel to investigate. The investigation lasted almost two years, but revealed nothing but a cadre of government bureaucrats who hated Trump, Democrat politicians who irresponsibly accused Americans of treason, and hundreds of reporters who lost all skepticism in an effort to smear Trump and profit from the hysteria. That all ended last week, when the country learned that Mueller had found no evidence of collusion.
The investigation was unreasonable from the start because it was based on accusations without reliable evidence. The dossier should have been ignored because it was an outlandish political document funded by a rival campaign and compiled by a foreign spy with the help of other foreigners. No underlying crime on which to base the accusation even existed. “Collusion,” which is the term the media and Trump’s opponents used every day for over two years, is not a crime. In the US, the police are supposed to investigate crimes, not people, but this was an investigation of people with hopes of finding a crime.
Unfortunately, corruption cannot be entirely prevented. In the US, the police and prosecutors are held accountable in two ways to prevent abuse of power. The first is that they can face legal repercussions. They are also held accountable by the people, because their bosses must face re-election. To appease the voting citizenry, the chief prosecutors and chief police officers keep their subordinates in line. However, in the Russia collusion fiasco, the bureaucracy apparently went rogue and the man chosen by Trump to oversee the bureaucracy, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, proved incapable of eliminating the alleged corruption.
The law enforcement and intelligence bureaucracy — as well as the majority of the press and the political establishment that included most Democrats and some Republicans — went after Trump because there was a fear in Washington that he would upend the system they so much enjoyed. A popular refrain during Trump’s candidacy was “drain the swamp,” meaning clear out the corruption and waste in the federal government. The powers in Washington feared that Trump would succeed. It seems that the most fearful group was the so-called “deep state,” the intelligence and law enforcement community that forgot that it must answer to the president and the people.
The vast majority of the national media went along with this hoax, happily reporting leaks from anonymous members of the deep state, forecasting the imminent demise of the Trump presidency, and hiring top former intelligence officials who openly hated and decried the new president. In the US, the media is entirely free to do this, and that is good. Trump could not stop them. He often criticized the hostile media and fought back, but the First Amendment of the Constitution guarantees Americans — including and especially the press — the right to say just about anything political about the president.
In the US, the media is supposed to be a bulwark against corruption but, over the last 28 months, some of the biggest media operations seemingly helped corruption. Promoting hysteria was good for ratings. However, some media outlets did ask difficult questions, remained skeptical of the deep-state narrative and published real investigative work that told the true story.
Some have described this whole affair as a coup attempt. If that is true, it failed. However, the investigation had many negative consequences. The witnesses who were questioned by the FBI, grand juries or congressional committees were sometimes compelled to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on lawyers. Seven Americans faced prosecution, mostly for minor process crimes such as lying about dates. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was prosecuted for lying to the FBI, even though the FBI agents did not think he was lying to them at the time they spoke. Eventually he pled guilty, reportedly because he had run out of money and Mueller threatened to prosecute his son. This is a corruption of the system, and many Americans are now calling for an investigation and for Trump to pardon Flynn.
The Russia collusion affair also interfered with the workings of government. The government and the media should have been focused on more important issues, such as the epidemic of addiction to opioids, which has become a scourge on the US. Some Americans believe it may have interfered with foreign policy, though Trump seems to have prevented that. Despite the collusion accusations, many people agree that Trump has been harsher on Russia than his recent predecessors. However, when he was gracious to Russian President Vladimir Putin once in Finland, he was accused of treason on television.
Now that the fiasco is over, what should we take away? First, the US authorities should only investigate crimes, not people. Second, federal agencies cannot be permitted to investigate or prosecute political opponents for political reasons. Third, the press must remain wary of powerful institutions and always question what it hears from the bureaucracy and political leaders. Fourth, there must be checks on all power. Sessions did not act as a check on the bureaucracy, but his successor, William Barr, finally did. The US government was created with checks, and the crisis ended when those checks were restored. No group or individual should be too powerful, because that necessarily leads to corruption.
• Ellen R. Wald, Ph.D. is a historian and author of “Saudi, Inc.” She is the president of Transversal Consulting and also teaches Middle East history and policy at Jacksonville University. Twitter: @EnergzdEconomy