Retired CIA agent breaks down the ‘counterintelligence red flags’ laid out in the Mueller report
President Donald Trump's manner with Russian leader Vladimir Putin was in contrast to the anger he flashed at NATO allies. (AFP / Brendan Smialowski)

After special counsel Robert Mueller delivered the final report for his Russia investigation in March, President Donald Trump was quick to describe it as a total vindication of himself. But while Mueller concluded that the 2016 Trump campaign’s interactions with Russians didn’t rise to the level of a full-fledged criminal conspiracy, that doesn’t mean that they weren’t questionable, and former CIA agent Steven L. Hall, in an op-ed for the Washington Post, emphasizes that Mueller’s report is hardly something for Trump to be proud of.

Hall, who spent 30 years managing Russia-related operations in the CIA, asserts, “In the wilderness of mirrors that is the world of counterintelligence, investigations do not always result in trials and people going to prison…. This is no time for celebration, regardless of whether you support Trump. Russia did, in fact, attempt to influence the presidential elections—a fact that (Attorney General William) Barr accepts, despite Trump’s continued denials.”

Americans, Hall stresses, should not feel “reassured” by Mueller’s conclusion that “there were links between Russia and Trump, but nothing that would stand up in a court of law.” Trump’s relationship with Russian political figures, he writes, still raise “counterintelligence red flags.”

The former CIA agent explains, “Remember the president’s obsequious behavior in Helsinki, where he indicated he believed (Russian President Vladimir) Putin over his own intelligence services? Remember the president’s expressed love of WikiLeaks, an organization later described by his own CIA chief as a hostile intelligence service? Remember when candidate Donald Trump called upon the Russians to spy on Hillary Clinton to get her deleted e-mails?”

Hall looks back on the case of Felix Bloch, who directed European and Canadian affairs for the State Department in the 1980s and was suspected of committing espionage on behalf of the Soviet Union but was never convicted of anything. Bloch’s case, Hall notes, demonstrates that counterintelligence probes don’t necessarily lead to criminal charges and convictions—although that doesn’t make the allegations any less disturbing.

Hall concludes his piece on a pessimistic note, stressing that “even if the Mueller report had thoroughly exonerated the president, this would not be a great day for American democracy”—and that “Putin, on the other hand, can be proud of what he has helped bring about in this country: a divided, weakened America.”