Mueller report: The age of jousting between Trump, Netanyahu and the law

Another similarity between the Trump and Netanyahu probes is that Mueller, like Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, resolved many open issues in favor of Trump.

April 19, 2019 02:24
4 minute read.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump at Ben Gurion airport on May 23, 2017. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)


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The full (redacted) 400-plus page report of US Special Counsel Robert Mueller is out, and it sheds a penetrating light on how US President Donald Trump and his campaign acted, as well as the full-scale war between law enforcement and politicians.

Mueller’s report says that Trump and much of his campaign acted improperly and on the margins of breaking the law without actually engaging in criminality, and describes why he and his team were cleared of collusion with Russia and of obstructing justice.

Probably the key to the Russia collusion question for Mueller was that while many Trump campaign aides were engaging with Russian agents or middlemen, there was no top-down or coordinated conspiracy or goals.

A case in point is the infamous Trump Tower meeting between top campaign officials Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, other aides and a Russian agent to obtain opposition research against Hillary Clinton.

The report says that the Trump aides involved likely knew that such a meeting was improper, but probably did not think of themselves as illegally conspiring with a foreign state, something which would be extremely difficult to prove.

Missing from the Mueller probe was even a single witness to point the finger at Trump as the head of a conspiracy the way that top former aides Nir Hefetz and Shlomo Filber did with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Bezeq-Walla Affair.

Rather, the Mueller probe for Trump is more analogous to the Submarine Affair for Netanyahu.

Many of Trump’s top aides were involved in illegalities (Manafort and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn are examples, and top unofficial adviser Roger Stone may be) like many of Netanyahu’s top former aides allegedly were (David Shimron, David Sharan, and national security council chief designate Avriel Bar-Yosef), but there was little or no evidence linked to the leader at the top.

Another similarity between the Trump and Netanyahu probes is that Mueller, like Israeli Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, resolved many open issues in favor of Trump.

Mandelblit viewed the Yediot Aharonot-Israel Hayom Affair as lacking sufficient, beyond-a-reasonable-doubt proof about whether Netanyahu had a criminal media bribery mental state, though there was substantial evidence of possible criminality.

Likewise, Mueller notes Trump allies Stone’s (though his name is redacted) and Jerome Corsi’s coordination of dumping Clinton’s emails with WikiLeaks (recognized by most as coordinating with Russia), but states an inability to prove a criminal mental state beyond a reasonable doubt.

But all of this is not the most striking aspect of the Mueller report.

The most striking aspect is how many times and ways Trump sought to shut down, slow down or sidetrack the probe – even as Mueller stayed neutral about criminality because he found the US president did not collude – and was seeking to obstruct out of irrational paranoia more than over a classic illegal cover-up, and because his lieutenants ignored his orders to obstruct the probe.

Put differently: no harm, no foul – no matter how ugly it all looked.

But Trump certainly had no hold-backs about taking on law enforcement, including crossing traditional redlines for its independence.

Similarly, Netanyahu has directly attacked the police, the prosecution team leader on his cases, Liat Ben-Ari, State Attorney Shai Nitzan and even Mandelblit in a more roundabout way.

The next stage for Netanyahu may be appointing a justice minister who will be ready to take substantial powers away from the Supreme Court and from Mandelblit, or to even directly pass laws to delay or block his own prosecution.

Netanyahu is reportedly setting a condition that to join his coalition, parties should be ready to support him staying in power even if Mandelblit issues a final bribery indictment against him.

On Trump’s side, one can argue that if the entirety of the Mueller probe found no collusion, that possibly there needs to be soul searching about how much was invested in the probe.

At this stage, Netanyahu has a harder argument on this as he will almost certainty be indicted, but if it turns out he can remain prime minister despite the charges, let alone if he is acquitted, those seeking his political head may also need to soul-search.
It is not clear what lessons can be drawn for how to arrive at better results in the future.

Due to hyper-partisanization, fueled at least partially by social media, politicians on all sides seem to feel freer to attack law enforcement, and the law enforcement in both countries yielded an inordinate volume of highly problematic leaks to feed political officials’ paranoia of a witch hunt – even where the probes were legitimate.

Last week’s election featured Iran or some other party using cutting-edge technology to hack Benny Gantz’s cellphone. Thus, it is not as if foreign interference in elections will abate. Rather, experts expect it to escalate.

In this new destabilizing age of technology and social media, absent the political and legal classes exploring a new social contract of finding boundaries that each side will respect, the unprecedented Trump and Netanyahu probes and the counter-attacks on law enforcement may only be symptoms of what is to come.

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