It was the firing heard round the world. With one move, on the advice of his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Donald Trump fired James Comey on May 9, 2017. It would change the course of the Trump presidency.
Comey, delivering a speech in California, learned of his termination when it flashed across cable news. Trump, under pressure to explain his decision, blamed a Justice Department official named Rod Rosenstein, a man Trump himself had appointed to his position. In explaining the firing, Trump released a memo Rosenstein had written, at Trump’s request, that listed Comey’s failures over the years.
It was Trump’s second impulsive move, and it may have been his most consequential. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, much to Trump’s dismay, had recused himself from oversight of the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election. That meant the authority fell to Rosenstein, the next-highest ranking official in the Department of Justice. Infuriated by Trump’s attempt to pin the blame for Comey’s firing on him, Rosenstein used the power he had at his unilateral disposal to do the one thing that could cause Trump more damage than anything else: He created the position of Special Counsel, and filled it with former FBI director Robert Mueller.
“Bob Mueller is one of the country’s great, great pros,” Comey said during his 2017 Senate testimony.
The product of Mueller’s year and a half of investigation is now complete and was delivered Friday to the Department of Justice. It may never be made public, but the investigation has already produced some of the most extraordinary documents made public by a prosecutor in the United States, opening a rare window into the world of big money, high-stakes politics and foreign lobbying, a world that normally operates in dim Georgetown restaurants or in hotel bars in exotic locales.
Those documents are to be found in Mueller’s legal filings. “Mueller has spoken loudly, if indirectly, in court — indictment by indictment, guilty plea by guilty plea. In doing so, he tracked an elaborate Russian operation that injected chaos into a U.S. presidential election and tried to help Trump win the White House. He followed a GOP campaign that embraced the Kremlin’s help and championed stolen material to hurt a political foe. And ultimately, he revealed layers of lies, deception, self-enrichment and hubris that followed. Woven through thousands of court papers, the special counsel has made his public report,” wrote Chad Day and Eric Tucker of The Associated Press, after an exhaustive review of his filings.
President Trump repeatedly dubbed the Mueller probe a “Witch Hunt” propelled forward by a “Fake News Media” and a Deep State hellbent on undermining his administration. Readers can decide for themselves how legitimate the inquiry was.
As it relates to the Trump presidency specifically, the mandate of the investigation related to whether he or senior members of his campaign actively colluded with the Russian government’s attempts to undermine Hillary Clinton, and whether Trump or his associates tried to cover up such activity and obstruct the investigation into it. If they did, what did they have to gain from it? No charges have been filed against anyone in the Trump orbit for colluding with Russian government officials.
Of more general importance is the integrity of our elections themselves. The peaceful transfer of power, an underappreciated innovation of our politics, rests on faith in the fairness of democracy and of our elections. Mueller’s filings, if heeded by lawmakers typically bored by the issue of election security, may be the first step toward earning back that trust.
This is adapted excerpt from The Mueller Papers: Compiled by Strong Arm Press with an Introduction by Ryan Grim