Friday the 13th is presumably always someone’s unlucky day. Just whose may not be obvious at the time, but I suspect that “Russiagate” special counsel Robert Mueller and Deputy US Attorney General Rod Rosenstein already regret picking Friday, July 13 to announce the indictments of 12 Russian intelligence officers on charges relating to an embarrassing 2016 leak of Democratic National Committee emails. They should.
Legally, the indictments are of almost no value. Those indicted will never be extradited to the US for trial, and the case that an external “hack” – as opposed to an internal DNC leak – even occurred is weak at best, if for no other reason than that the DNC denied the FBI access to its servers, instead commissioning a private “cybersecurity analysis” to reach the conclusion it wanted reached before hectoring government investigators to join that conclusion.
Diplomatically, on the other hand, the indictments and the timing of the announcement were a veritable pipe bomb, thrown into preparations for a scheduled Helsinki summit between US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
House Republicans, already incensed with Rosenstein over his attempts to stonewall their probe into the Democratic Party’s use of the FBI as a proprietary political hit squad, are planning a renewed effort to impeach him. If he goes down, Mueller likely does as well. And at this point, it would take a heck of an actor to argue with a straight face that the effort is unjustified.
Their timing was clearly intentional. Their intent was transparently political. Mueller and Rosenstein were attempting to hijack the Trump-Putin summit for the purpose of depriving Trump of any possible “wins” that might come out of it.
They secured and and announced the indictments “with intent to influence the measures or conduct of any foreign government or of any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States.”
That language is from 1799’s Logan Act (18 U.S.C. § 953). Its constitutionality is suspect and no one has ever been indicted under it in the 219 years since its passage. Rosenstein and Mueller aren’t likely to be the first two, and may not even technically have violated its letter. But I’d be hard put to name a more obvious, intentional, or flagrant act in violation of its spirit.
Rosenstein and Mueller are attempting to conduct foreign policy by special prosecutor, a way of doing things found nowhere in the US Constitution. Impeachment or firing should be the least of their worries. I’m guessing that there are laws other than the Logan Act that could, and should, be invoked to have them fitted for orange coveralls and leg irons pending an appointment with a judge.
That they even have defenders is proof positive that some of Trump’s most prominent opponents consider “rule of law” a quaint and empty concept – a useful slogan, nothing more – even as they continually, casually, and hypocritically invoke it whenever they think doing so might politically disadvantage him.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida. This article is reprinted with permission from William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.