02 April 2019 12:47:54 IST

A management and technology professional with 17 years of experience at Big-4 business consulting firms, and seven years of experience in high-technology manufacturing, Rajkamal Rao is a results-driven strategy expert. A US citizen with OCI (Overseas Citizen of India) privileges that allow him to live and work in India, he divides his time between the two countries. Rao heads Rao Advisors, a firm that counsels students aspiring to study in the United States on ways to maximise their return on investment. He lives with his wife and son in Texas. Rao has been a columnist for from the year the website was launched, in 2015, and writes regularly for BusinessLine as well. Twitter: @rajkamalrao

So, Trump did not collude with Russia after all

Former FBI Director Robert Muller’s investigation vindicated the most vilified President in US history

For over two years, we’ve heard a constant drumbeat from western, liberal media and some in the Democratic party. It started off with the charge that Trump knowingly coordinated with the Russians to have them leak Hillary Clinton’s e-mails so that the negative information would help sink her candidacy and get him elected in 2016.

When Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, the Washington establishment lobbied to have a special counsel appointed — a former FBI chief himself, Robert Mueller, frequently referred to as being second only to God in honesty — to investigate if Trump colluded with the Russians and whether he obstructed justice when he used his executive powers as president to prevent any investigations from taking place.

Mueller conducted the most expansive investigation in US history for nearly two years. His office was given enormous powers to prosecute. There were no limits to what paths and whom he could pursue, how much money he could spend and how far back he could go. He used 19 senior prosecutors and over 40 FBI agents, summoned over 500 witnesses with subpoenas so that they were forced to testify, and examined millions of pages of documents. If there’s anyone who knows about the inner workings of the Trump campaign and presidency, that person is Robert Mueller.

While the most in-depth investigation of a sitting US president dragged on for over 22 months, there were over 525,000 articles or TV reports about Trump, 90 per cent of them negative.

Mueller’s conclusion at the end of it all? Trump did not collude with the Russians.

Victory for Trump

On the charge of obstructing justice — such as firing Comey to “cover up” collusion — Mueller did not report one way or another and left it to the Attorney General of the United States, William Barr, to conclude. Barr concluded that Trump did not obstruct justice either.

This is a huge victory for Trump because as the most vilified and hated president in modern US history, the media’s narrative of him as a deceitful conman who somehow stole the presidency is now completely shattered. And worse, it shows that Trump was speaking the truth, in this matter at least, and it was his detractors who were making negative assessments of Trump and his character. Such public statements and personality defamation would have earned them jail time in countries with laws against sedition.

But wait! There’s more. It turns out that the collusion was actually on the Democratic Party side, collusion both with Russia and among members of the Washington establishment who were so opposed to Trump that they wanted to bring him down.

So here’s what actually happened — and each detail is accurate because these people have testified publicly, either in Congress or in a court of law, under oath.

Oppo research

In the spring of 2016, as it appeared that Trump was about to secure the Republican nomination, Hillary Clinton, then the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, used a Seattle-based law firm Perkins Coie to hire Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research on Trump. Fusion GPS commissioned a former British intelligence officer, Christopher Steele, who was head of the Russia desk when he worked for MI6, to dig up dirt on Trump.

Digging up dirt is common in politics and the Steele dossier was no different. Where it deviated from the norm was that it contained salacious details about Trump, including unconfirmed stories that Trump spent time with Russian prostitutes when he visited Russia.

In the summer of 2016, Trump and Hillary had been selected by their respective parties to fight the general election. Conventional wisdom said that Hillary would win in a landslide. But there were many in the Obama Justice Department who were uneasy. They wanted an insurance policy that Hillary alone would win.

FBI surveillance

One senior person in the department was Bruce Ohr. His wife worked with Fusion GPS, so it was easy for him to obtain a copy of the Steele dossier. Working with an ardent Trump-hater within the FBI, Peter Strzok, and Lisa Page, another FBI agent who was having an extra-marital affair with Strzok, they decided that they had found the perfect insurance policy after all.

They convinced then FBI Director James Comey to approach a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) to demand that senior members of the Trump campaign be surveilled by the FBI. The request was made on the basis of national security. Trump had affairs with Russian prostitutes, had publicly mocked the FBI repeatedly on national TV that 33,000 Hillary Clinton emails had never been found and would Russia help? So, Trump was vulnerable to Russian blackmail, or worse, could be a Russian agent.

The FISA court agreed, and official US government surveillance of Trump and senior members of his family began.

On Nov 8, Trump was elected president. The entire Washington and media establishment was stunned beyond disbelief. It was time for the insurance policy to be put into action.

Insurance policy

The first to fall was a senior, retired Army Lieutenant General, Michael Flynn. He was the national security adviser of the incoming president and was therefore under surveillance by the FBI. He had a meeting with the Russian Ambassador in December just as he had meetings with hundreds of foreign dignitaries in Washington.

The FBI leaked the details of Flynn’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador to the White House Chief of Staff, who then asked Vice-President Mike Pence to question Flynn. When Flynn wasn’t entirely truthful about his communication with the Russians, he was asked to resign. After all, the FBI had a full record of his conversation. Flynn went down in history as the shortest-serving National Security Advisor in US history, in office for only 20 days.

Trump, not believing that a decorated general such as Flynn was a Russian spy, asked Comey at a famous meeting in February to go easy on Flynn. Comey noted this request down as the president using his executive powers to tell the FBI Director to “obstruct justice”, and informed his FBI team. They were delighted. The plan was working double time. Now, they had an obstruction of justice case to pursue against the president to bring him down.

Three months later, Trump fired Comey and explained in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that he had been thinking about firing him anyway, although internal FBI investigations showed that Comey had violated department policy during the Hillary e-mail investigations.

Now, Trump was on record to have fired the very FBI Director who was leading the Russia investigation. Comey leaked all of his notes to a Columbia professor, who leaked them to the press. Two days later, the US government had appointed the special counsel to investigate the president.

So the summary of the Russia story is that there was never any collusion between Trump and the Russians. There was no obstruction of justice because when there’s no crime, how can there be a cover-up?

Instead, the shoe has fallen on the other foot. Never-Trumpers in the Obama Administration plotted to tilt the election to Hillary and, on failing, surveil and spy on Trump using the government’s vast powers. They knew all along that there was no collusion, so they tried to add obstruction charges so that they could impeach him in office.

Was this the brilliant plot of a Hollywood political thriller? No, this is exactly how it happened, scene by scene over nearly three years, in the world’s oldest democracy.