George Stanley Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published 3:39 PM EDT Mar 26, 2019
If citizens are to rule their own lives rather than be ruled, they must be free to question, to challenge, to investigate those in power.
To help ensure this would happen, America’s founders enshrined an independent press into our Bill of Rights, along with our liberties to meet, to protest, to worship.
It’s still working as intended — that’s good news that all Americans can appreciate about the now-completed investigation into Russian interference with our 2016 elections.
In the summer of 2016, federal law enforcers began seeing evidence that the Russian government was attempting to influence our presidential election. At the same time, a candidate for president publicly invited the Russians to hack his opponent’s computers. Members of Donald Trump’s family and campaign staff also met with suspected Russian agents.
Our law officers didn’t shirk their duties and ignore all this. They did their jobs and opened an investigation to ensure our laws were being followed, our voting rights were being defended.
When candidate Trump won the race, concerns grew that he might try to snuff out any investigation into Russian election meddling. His new attorney general was forced to separate himself from his agency’s investigation when it came to light that he had met during the campaign with Russian officials but did not disclose this during his Senate confirmation hearings.
Then President Trump privately asked the FBI director for his loyalty and fired him when he didn’t like the response.
Eight days later, in May 2017, Robert Mueller, a retired federal prosecutor and law enforcement officer, was asked to lead the investigation. Mueller had spent most of his adult life serving his country. He led a Marine platoon in Vietnam, receiving a Purple Heart and Bronze Star with “V” for valor after rescuing a wounded Marine under enemy fire.
First appointed U.S. attorney by Ronald Reagan, he’d been named assistant attorney general by George H.W. Bush, then deputy attorney general by George W. Bush, and finally became FBI director on Sept. 4, 2001, exactly one week before 9/11.
For the next 12 years, he helped lead our nation’s hugely successful defense against further foreign terrorist attacks under Presidents Bush and Obama. A lifelong Republican, Mueller was widely respected by people in both parties for his judgment, skill and integrity.
It turns out Russian cyber spies did hack into the accounts of Hillary Clinton and other prominent Democrats, then leaked embarrassing emails through longtime ally WikiLeaks.
Russian hackers also probed the vote-counting systems of 39 states. They created accounts of fake American “patriots” on Facebook and Twitter — American flag photos in their phony profile icons — and sowed discord, stoked anger, spread widely shared lies. (Two years earlier they had used these same tactics, with great effect, in the Ukraine, which still smolders today.)
The President proclaimed his innocence while attacking the investigation as “illegal,” “fake” and “a witch hunt.”
Mueller silently continued the work, chasing leads, asking questions. His team presented evidence of crimes to a grand jury of common citizens. A total of 34 people have been charged by those citizens with felony crimes, including 25 Russians.
Mueller’s team found evidence that top officials and advisers of the Trump campaign had committed numerous crimes, including bank fraud, tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions, and lying to investigators. Those already convicted of federal crimes include campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Michael Flynn and personal attorney Michael Cohen. Longtime Trump friend and adviser Roger Stone awaits trial.
Members of the independent press did not shirk their responsibilities and ignore all this. They did their jobs and chased leads and asked questions. They reported what they learned so that the citizens knew what was happening and were free to make up their own minds. Polls showed that most Americans wanted Mueller to continue the investigation until finished. The investigation continued.
Can you imagine where we’d be today if it hadn’t?
Mueller’s team found evidence that Russian agents had invited Trump campaign officials, associates and family members to join in their election conspiracy.
They did not find that any of these American citizens committed crimes by knowingly working with the Russians to thwart our democracy or change our election results.
Now we know.
We know because the people assigned to defend our constitution were free to investigate.
We know because independent journalists were free to report what they learned.
We know because the citizens of this great experiment in self-government remain free and in charge.
It’s messy. It’s noisy. It’s the American way.
And it works.
Subscribe to independent reporting that supports democracy via jsonline.com/deal. George Stanley is editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin, [email protected] on Twitter @geostanley.
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