According to a new report in the New York Times, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein secretly “curtailed the investigation” into Donald Trump’s “decades-long personal and business ties to Russia” without ever telling the law enforcement agencies or the rest of the Justice Department that he was doing so.
At this point, everyone is familiar with the thorough investigation that was conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which resulted in indictments and convictions of multiple high-ranking Trump advisers and campaign members.
But according to the new report, despite the intelligence community’s concerns about Trump’s foreign ties, Rosenstein personally concluded prior to Mueller’s launch in earnest of his own investigation that there was not sufficient cause to investigate those links and decided that former acting director of the FBI, Andrew McCabe, had conflicts of interest.
Unfortunately, Rosenstein never informed McCabe or the FBI that he was effectively closing that line of inquiry, which left them with the impression that a look into Trump’s Russian links would be included in the purview of Mueller’s investigation.
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It was not.
Following a bipartisan Senate Report summing up the findings of the Russia investigation, Mr. McCabe was shocked:
We opened this case in May 2017 because we had information that indicated a national security threat might exist, specifically a counterintelligence threat involving the president and Russia. I expected that issue and issues related to it would be fully examined by the special counsel team. If a decision was made not to investigate those issues, I am surprised and disappointed. I was not aware of that.”
Specifically, knowledge of the former real estate mogul’s activities with women while visiting Moscow that were known to the Kremlin were considered potential sources of kompromat, or compromising “dirt” that could be used against Trump during either the election or after he became president.
But when Mueller was appointed in May 2017, although most believed that his investigation would include a full accounting of all of his ties with Russia, the Times reports that Rosenstein “privately…instructed Mr. Mueller to conduct only a criminal investigation into whether anyone broke the law in connection with Russia’s 2016 election interference.”
Such a limited scope of inquiry effectively hog-tied Mueller in terms of background on any connections, favors owed, debts incurred — anything other than strictly whether election laws were broken by the Trump campaign was off limits.
What did America miss when Rod Rosenstein decided all by himself that Trump’s personal ties to Putin and other Russian oligarchs wasn’t worth looking into? We may never know.