“Russia is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”

— Winston Churchill

Throughout the past few years, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about Russia. It’s a country I have always been interested in dating back to law school at the University of Illinois when I took an elective course on Soviet law.

Without going into a lot of detail, my takeaways from that class were that the state as the single authoritarian party controlled everything and through their dictator and party leaders who did whatever they wanted. In Churchill’s words, Russia is an inscrutable and menacing land that plays by its own rules usually to the detriment of others.

Today, nothing has changed. In interfering with our 2016 elections, Vladimir Putin has chalked up on his scoreboard another win but remains a main threat to the USA. If you disagree with that, check out the 167-page Pentagon white paper, which was released in May 2019 detailing Russian strategic intentions.

I mention all of this because, similar to millions of others, I tuned in to listen to special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony. I was interested mainly in his investigation and report on Russian interference in the U.S. 2016 elections, links between Donald Trump associates and Russian officials and whether Trump obstructed justice. I thought that on the subject of meddling and influencing elections, trolls, fake news, conspiracy theories and getting into American space to divide and distract us, there would be a lot of discussion, condemnation of Russia and action by Congress. As I’ll explain, it was not to be, even though Mueller made it clear we have a foreign enemy in Russia attacking our elections and democracy since 2016. He stated they are “in there doing it as we sit here.”

Mueller looked extremely frail and fatigued. Everyone knew right up front he was not going to say anything beyond what was contained in his 488-page report, which according to a CNN poll has been read by only 3 percent of Americans. The Democrats simply highlighted many of the findings critical of Trump.

One main bone of contention was the Office of Legal Counsel’s guidance, which prohibited indicting a sitting president. Mueller respected that DOJ policy. Democrats, however, got him to concede early on that but for the OLC guidance he would have charged the president on felony obstruction. Later, however, in his testimony, after the lunch recess and perhaps after being coached, he said this: “That is not the correct way to say it. As we say in the report and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.” What does all of this mean?

This has been hashed over by many since his testimony, but given the intense polarization in American politics, people no doubt will interpret that in different ways. One simple sensible way to look at it is, that Mueller as he mentioned in his report, was not able to make that determination because it would be fundamentally unfair. Trump would not be able to defend himself in any forum.

All of which, however, doesn’t change the fact, that at a different time, in a different forum and with a different prosecutor, the president could be prosecuted, as noted even by 1,000 prosecutors who signed a letter confirming that the Mueller report confirmed that Trump committed several indictable crimes.

Meanwhile, on what many felt to be the critical issue, as I did, mainly Russian meddling in elections, the GOP-controlled Senate now has refused to vote on election security bills designed to address this issue. The New York Times noted that their reasons for doing nothing could be seen as an admission that the 2016 election was tainted, thus annoying Trump.

Mueller stated that “over the course of my career, I’ve seen a number of challenges to our democracy. The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious.” Despite his poor television appearance and performance, one can only hope this statement will be taken seriously.

Joe Yurgine is a practicing attorney in Kankakee County. He can be reached at joeyurgine@yahoo.com

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