Donald Trump has repeatedly described special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his presidential campaign a “rigged witch hunt.” He’s right about one thing: there is clear evidence of a rigged witch hunt in Washington. But it’s not the one he thinks it is.
Here’s a typical Trump tweet, one of many that cite the Rigged Witch Hunt:
There is No Collusion! The Robert Mueller Rigged Witch Hunt, headed now by 17 (increased from 13, including an Obama White House lawyer) Angry Democrats, was started by a fraudulent Dossier, paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC. Therefore, the Witch Hunt is an illegal Scam!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 29, 2018
Let’s get the definition straight.
Rigged means set up ahead of time with one outcome in mind.
Witch hunt means in search of innocent victims where there is no real wrongdoing.
As I reviewed the meaning of these expressions, I realized that there was indeed a Washington investigation that fit this description.
The 2016 election rigged witch hunt
Donald Trump won the 2016 election, but lost the popular vote by 3 million votes, 66 million to 63 million. Three weeks after the election, he made the claim that millions of people voted illegally, and that as a result, he had actually won the popular vote.
Then he set up a presidential commission to investigate fraudulent voting in the 2016 election. The commission included secretaries of state from several states. These are the state officials responsible for integrity of voting.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap described in the Washington Post what actually happened in that commission, which has since been shut down.
Dunlap described his reaction after reading the outline of the report, not yet written: “After reading this, I see that it wasn’t just a matter of investigating President Trump’s claims that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally, but the goal of the commission seems to have been to validate those claims.” He also called his experience “the most bizarre thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
When the commission refused to share documents with Dunlap, who was one of its own members, he sued to get access. You can read all 617 pages now if you want. Here’s how the Post described what he found:
The materials provide a window into the panel’s operations. In one email, Christy McCormick, a Republican member of the commission, spoke to a staff member about recruiting a career statistician from the Justice Department to the commission, writing that she was “pretty confident that he is conservative (and Christian, too).” Other documents showed what American Oversight, the accountability-focused nonprofit organization working on the lawsuit with Dunlap, said was an attempt to shut out him and other Democrat members. Another email showed one of Pence’s aides sharing with Kobach what he said was data about same-day voter registration in New Hampshire, which Kobach later used in a Breitbart column arguing that the alleged fraud had swung the state’s 2016 senate race.
To this day, there is no credible evidence of millions of illegal votes in the 2016 election.
Was it rigged? Clearly, the purpose of the committee was to find evidence for fraud, not to figure out the truth. Set up ahead of time with one outcome in mind: rigged.
Was it a witch hunt? It’s trying to find wrongdoing for which no evidence exists: witch hunt.
It appears we’ve found Trump’s rigged witch hunt.
What about the Mueller investigation?
Repeating a nickname doesn’t make the Mueller investigation fraudulent. Let’s examine whether it’s a rigged witch hunt.
The purpose of the special counsel’s office is to identify laws that were violated by members of the Trump campaign in 2016, with a specific focus on the involvement of foreign agents. This is the “collusion” they are seeking. While “collusion” is not the definition of a crime, members of a presidential campaign are prohibited by law from collaborating with foreign agents, and at least four potential federal laws apply to this situation. From Politifact, here’s a quote from Stanford Law professor Nathaniel Persily:
“A foreign national spending money to influence a federal election can be a crime,” Persily said. “And if a U.S. citizen coordinates, conspires or assists in that spending, then it could be a crime.”
Persily pointed to a 2011 U.S. District Court ruling based on the 2002 law. The judges said that the law bans foreign nationals “from making expenditures to expressly advocate the election or defeat of a political candidate.”
Is this a “rigged witch hunt?”
Well, “rigged” is a little strange as a descriptor for a body investigating crime under the auspices of the FBI. The job of the FBI is to find, investigate, and prosecute crimes. In this sense, it is “rigged” against criminals. The FBI is not a courtroom where everyone gets an equal say under equal rules. If it finds evidence of crime, it must investigate the crime — it must follow the rules, but there is not a requirement that it be balanced.
In this case, the Mueller investigation is set up to investigate Russian interference in the election. If it finds evidence, it will refer the evidence for prosecution. Of course that seems unfair to the people prosecuted, but that’s how investigations and prosecutions work.
It is indeed set up ahead of time with one outcome in mind. But so is every law enforcement body. That goal is finding and prosecuting crime. “Rigged” doesn’t come into it, until things actually get to a courtroom.
Is it a witch hunt? That would mean that it was attempting to find wrongdoing where none existed.
So far Mueller’s team has indicted or secured guilty pleas from 32 people and three Russian companies. Five campaign aides have pled guilty, including national security advisor Michael T. Flynn. Campaign manager Paul Manafort is on trial, and has received money from foreign governments. Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen is under investigation for, among other things, paying off Stormy Daniels to keep quiet — and such a payment is an illegal campaign contribution, since it is money intended to help the campaign (presidential candidate John Edwards was indicted for doing the same thing).
And this weekend, Donald Trump stated on Twitter that the purpose of the 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russians was to get information on Hillary Clinton. That meeting included Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner. Here’s Trump’s tweet:
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics – and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 5, 2018
This confirms a campaign meeting with Russians.
With this many people caught in the web, it’s no witch hunt. The wrongdoing is not imaginary, and many members of Trump’s campaign were involved.
As things stand, based on public information, Trump himself is not implicated yet. But it’s not rigged, and it’s not a witch hunt.
If you’re looking for a rigged witch hunt, the presidential election fraud commission is your model, not the Mueller investigation.