[오피니언] 추후 통보 있을 때까지 취소된 대통령 탄핵 심의

Brian Cates
2019년 7월 30일 업데이트: 2019년 7월 31일

지난 24일 트럼프-러시아 스캔들에 대한 뮬러 특검 청문회가 열렸다. 2년여의 특검의 성과로 트럼프 대통령 탄핵 재판이 진행되리라는 민주당의 기대와 달리, 뮬러 특검은 트럼프와 러시아 간의 공모 사실을 밝혀내지 못했다.

트럼프의 사법 방해 혐의도 처벌할 만한 결론에 이르지 못했다고 발표하며 뮬러 청문회는 끝났고, 뮬러 특별검사는 조사를 제대로 했는지 의심스러울 정도로 공화당 의원 짐 조던(오하이오)의 질문에 제대로 대답 못 하는 모습을 보이기도 했다.

지금까지 밝혀진 트럼프-러시아 유착설의 기원은 이렇다. 클린턴 캠프에서 민간 전략정보업체인 퓨전(Fusion GPS)에 트럼프와 러시아 유착 관계에 대한 조사를 의뢰했다. 이 조사 결과가 미국 최대 온라인 매체 버즈피드에 보도되면서 본격적인 트럼프-러시아 유착에 관한 가짜 뉴스가 만들어지기 시작했다.

결국 7시간 동안 이어진 뮬러 청문회에서 트럼프-러시아 스캔들은 사실이 아님이 밝혀지며 민주당 의원들은 당혹감을 감추지 못했다. 트럼프 대통령의 탄핵 심판이 일사천리로 진행될 거로 예상했지만, 제럴드 내들러 미 하원 법사위원회 의장은 결국 탄핵 심판에 제동을 걸어야 했다.

 

Commentary

Going into the long-anticipated congressional testimony of former special counsel Robert Mueller on July 24, Democrats were desperately hoping that somehow Mueller’s comments to the House committees would be a game-changer.

Oh, Mueller’s testimony changed the game, all right. Just not in the way that Democrats were hoping. The hearings were a complete and utter disaster for anyone hoping it would provide any real momentum toward impeachment hearings.

Over the past two and a half years, a picture of Mueller was created by the political establishment of a crack investigator, a sharp, competent prosecutor up to the task of leading a special counsel’s office. Instead, viewers of the hearings found themselves looking at an aged, weary-looking elderly fellow who was often confused, couldn’t seem to hear his questioners, constantly had to have questions repeated to him, and seemed clueless about what was in the official report that bears his name. 

This actually happened several times. I’m not exaggerating. Mueller was asked a question about something, he answered he didn’t know or it wasn’t within his purview, only to look confused when he was told he was being asked about something that was contained in his own final report. 

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) probably elicited the clearest example of this when he questioned Mueller about Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud’s role in helping to launch the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation of the Trump campaign. While pointing out that Mueller’s special counsel team had no problem prosecuting people such as George Papadopoulos and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn for even minor acts of perjury, Jordan demanded to know why Mifsud was never charged for telling multiple lies to the FBI.

Mueller seemed to be not at all familiar with Mifsud’s name or what Jordan was referring to. Jordan then attempted to walk Mueller through why Mifsud’s perjury mattered. Mueller looked completely lost. When Jordan asked, “Who told Papadopoulos?” that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, Mueller said he couldn’t “get into the evidentiary file,” and then appeared shocked when Jordan told him it was in his own report. 

The guy who just spent more than two years investigating all of this appeared to have no grasp of the sequence of events that triggered the start of the FBI’s investigation of the Trump campaign in July 2016.  How is that possible?

In case anyone shares Mueller’s obvious confusion on this, I’ll explain it.

Mifsud’s Key Role

Here’s the sequence of events that occurred:

  1. Mifsud approached Papadopoulos with claims of being very connected to the Russian government. At one meeting he had with Papadopoulos, Mifsud brings a woman with him who is purported to be Russian President Vladimir Putin’s niece.
  2. Mifsud tells Papadopoulos that Russian government officials want to help the Trump campaign win the 2016 election. He tells the young adviser that the Russians have “dirt” on Hillary Clinton that they are willing to share.
  3. Later, FBI asset Stefan Halper meets with Papadopoulos and specifically inquires about any untoward or unusual Russian activity that Papadopoulos has encountered. When he relates the Mifsud offer to him, Halper inquires as to whether Papadopoulos intends to accept the offer. Papadopoulos very strongly tells Halper in no uncertain terms that it would be treason.
  4. Papadopoulos is later approached by Australia’s High Commissioner to the UK, Alexander Downer. Papadopoulos had never met Downer before and his suspicions were immediately aroused when Downer turned the conversation to Russia.
  5. Despite his misgivings, it appears Papadopoulos relates Mifsud’s offer of Russian aid to the Trump campaign. This information makes its way to the FBI, and as a result, FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and top agent Peter Strzok launch the FBI’s Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the Trump campaign on July 31, 2016.

Jordan wanted an answer as to why this key, central figure whose activity in approaching Papadopoulos literally launched three years of all of this—the FBI investigation and then the special counsel investigation—was allowed to lie multiple times to federal investigators and then walk away scot-free. Mueller had no answer.

Mueller especially didn’t want to address questions about whether Mifsud, far from being a real Russian agent, was actually sent to Papadopoulos by the FBI to make a fake offer, so as to entrap him. 

Mueller also appeared to not be familiar with the political operative firm Fusion GPS, something that many people find simply incredible, given the central role the firm played in hiring Christopher Steele to create his now-infamous anti-Trump dossier.

Two Main Stages of the Collusion Hoax

People need to remember how we got here.

We didn’t learn about Papadopoulos’s drunken bar chat with Downer being the “trigger’ for the Crossfire Hurricane investigation into the Trump campaign until early 2018. 

Prior to that, it was speculation and allegations leaked from the notorious Steele dossier during the 2016 campaign and then the publication of the dossier itself by BuzzFeed in January 2017 that launched the full-blown Trump-Russia collusion hoax in the mainstream media.

One “stage” was launched by the Clinton campaign hiring Fusion GPS to create the Steele dossier and then paying Steele and Fusion GPS co-founder Glenn Simpson to shop the allegations to U.S. news media all during the campaign cycle. 

The other “stage” was the launch of the investigations into the Trump campaign, based on very shaky evidence.

It was widely assumed that the special counsel’s office spent the past two years thoroughly investigating both stages of the collusion hoax. If Mueller’s report itself hadn’t made it crystal-clear this was not the case, his testimony on July 24 certainly did. Mueller’s team appears not to have looked into either the Steele dossier or the antics of Mifsud, Halper, and Downer.

A Final Conclusion to Impeachment Hysteria

The expectation was that after Mueller testified and dropped a bombshell or two that the Democrats could move full-speed-ahead to impeachment hearings in the House. 

And now? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has had to rebuff House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and firmly put the brakes on any movement to impeachment hearings since the Mueller testimony turned out to be the opposite of what they expected.

It was almost two weeks ago that a resolution introduced onto the House floor to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump went down to a most embarrassing lopsided defeat. How bad was it? One hundred thirty-seven Democrats crossed the aisle to vote with Republicans against the resolution.

After that train wreck of a hearing, I don’t see the Democratic leadership allowing another impeachment vote any time soon. 

Brian Cates is a writer based in South Texas and author of “Nobody Asked For My Opinion … But Here It Is Anyway!” He can be reached on Twitter at @drawandstrike

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