Special Prosecutor Mueller is charged with investigating “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” as well as other matters that “may arise directly from the investigation.” He's attached to the Justice Department, which primarily conducts criminal investigations (although they also do counterterrorism investigations, which are different in legal ways I don't understand). This is necessary, but not sufficient.
It is entirely possible that a thorough criminal investigation will end, a year or three from now, with no prosecutable evidence of any crimes being committed, other than the ones we already know about (Flynn's failure to report his foreign-government income, campaign donations from Trump's non-profit foundation to people who were deciding whether to prosecute him, and things like that). At which point Donald Trump will say "See, I told you so: no crimes committed, nothing wrong, just a bunch of sore-loser Democrats (and did I mention I won 306 electoral votes?)"
Of course, we wouldn't be out of the woods. There are still two big categories of things that might not be criminal, but which can and should be investigated concurrently with Mueller's criminal investigation.
Trump has said many times "The election is over. I won. Get over it and let's move on." Which (in typical "it's all about me" fashion) misses the point that a foreign government tried to pick our President, and succeeded
. (We don't know for sure that he wouldn't have won without Russian help, but we know that the Russians got what they wanted.) That
election is over, but there will be others, and if a foreign government was able to get its preferred candidate elected in 2016, they'll try to do it again in every future election. Next time it might be Russia again, or China, or Iran, or North Korea, or all of them at once.... That's a problem for any patriotic American, regardless of party: I think we can all agree that we want the American President to be chosen by the American people, not by a foreign government. We need a thoroughly bipartisan investigation into how Russia attacked our democracy, how they or others might attack it in the future, and how to deflect those attacks. Donald Trump doesn't want to see that investigation, of course, probably for the innocent reason that questioning the legitimacy of his glorious election bruises his ego. This category, on its own, wouldn't produce charges (impeachment or criminal) against the President, but could lead to electoral reforms, journalistic reforms, etc. and make American democracy stronger.
The other category is Trump's own abuses of power to enrich himself and his family. Every time he spends a weekend at one of his own resorts, Secret Service and other government officials have to stay there too, at taxpayer expense, which means hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars going into Trump's pocket. Every time a foreign delegation comes to Washington, DC or New York, they expect to be treated more favorably because they're staying in a Trump hotel, thus funneling hundreds of thousands of other
countries' taxpayer dollars into Trump's pocket; meanwhile, he has every incentive to carry out Presidential policies in the interest of his loyal customers, not necessarily the interest of the American people. He's likely to sign massive tax cuts for billionaires, with no way for the American people to see how much he and his family would personally benefit, because his own finances are secret. Businesses owned by him, his daughter, in-laws, and sons have suddenly gotten much more favorable treatment by governments around the world that want to ingratiate themselves with the President of the United States, but we don't know exactly what they own and what they owe to whom in what countries, because their own finances are secret. And I don't think Trump sees anything wrong with any of this: business is about powerful men scratching one another's backs to maintain a personal trust relationship. This category covers a variety of impeachable offenses, even if they're not criminal. (As a New York Times op-ed pointed out recently, the phrase "High crimes and Misdemeanors", in the 18th century, would have been understood to mean political
misdeeds and abuse of power rather than violations of the criminal code, as would be the literal meaning of those words today.)
So, three different investigations:
- One into possibly criminal collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, together with attempts to cover it up.
- One into activity by Russia that might not be criminal or involve Trump but is definitely an assault on democracy.
- And one into activity by Trump that might not be criminal or involve Russia but is definitely an assault on democracy.
All three are important, but I think the first is actually the least
important in the long run.