Mueller report exposes a loophole in American foreign policy

By: Rachel Marsden

PARIS -- The 448-page Mueller report was finally released last week -- with black ink all over it.

Some of those redactions may be related to the 14 cases Mueller listed as being referred to other prosecutors. The special counsel adopted a very conservative approach to his mission, which was strictly limited to determining whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. Mueller found no evidence that there was.

Unless those 14 cases involve possible foreign interference, we're left, at the end of this process, with a loophole through which one could drive an armored tank -- en route to more nonsensical foreign wars

Mueller's report shows that Trump's candidacy attracted assorted hustlers and clingers to power who were keen on positioning themselves between Trump and foreign interests, both in the final stretch of the campaign and in the transition phase. The report is rife with shady lobbyist types who, as self-styled emissaries for Trump, were connecting with Middle Eastern royals and Russian businessmen close to the Kremlin.

The Mueller report didn't conclude that Trump himself knew what any of these professional grifters claiming to represent Trump's interests were up to. It's unclear if any of them succeeded in accomplishing anything that Trump would consider to be of value. The narrow focus of both Mueller's mission and the resulting public debate on Russia, to the exclusion of other nations (particularly a handful of nations in the Middle East), still leaves America vulnerable.

Trump's actions vis--vis Russia have been consistent with the prevailing American establishment approach to Russia. He extended sanctions against Russia that had been imposed by his predecessor, Barack Obama , and reimposed sanctions against Iran (Russia's key ally in the Middle East) that Obama had lifted.

Where Trump has broken with the establishment in a way that should raise eyebrows -- and questions about outside interference in American foreign policy -- is in Yemen. Congress recently voted 247-175 to end American military assistance to Saudi Arabia in Yemen. Trump vetoed that resolution with an odd justification. He claimed that simply accepting the resolution would undermine his presidential authority. If this were only about an affront to Trump's authority, you'd think he would systematically veto everything that Congress passed.

Trump's veto also contradicted his tendency to oppose American involvement in foreign wars. So why is Yemen the exception? It's a proxy war between the Iran-backed Houthis and a Saudi-led, Western-backed coalition. French military intelligence documents published by The Intercept earlier this month claim that America's targeting assistance with Saudi air strikes has been "poorly mastered" by the Saudis. No kidding: The number of civilians killed in this war is the subject of international outcry.

Profit is likely a consideration. The French military intelligence report lists all of the heavy artillery purchased almost exclusively from Western nations -- notably the United States, France and Great Britain -- for Saudi use in bombing Yemeni civilians. Meanwhile, the Houthis are pulverizing American-backed ground forces, which are led by the Emiratis and include Sudanese fighters along with "contractors" from Colombia and Nepal. The New York Times reported in 2011 that these contractors were imported and trained by a company called Reflex Responses, which, at least initially, involved former Blackwater executives and employees in its setup and operations.

Clearly the war in Yemen is a profitable enterprise for American defense contractors. But in other cases, the potential loss of American profit hasn't stopped Trump from ordering drawdowns, even when it ran counter to the establishment consensus.

CIA Director Gina Haspel reportedly was able to prod Trump into sanctioning Russia by showing him photos of dead ducks said to have been collateral damage from the fatal nerve-agent attack on Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia near London. British intelligence has attributed the attack to Russian intelligence services. Yet apparently Trump doesn't mind endorsing the killing of Yemenis. Perhaps Haspel can find a photo of some dead ducks in Yemen?

The war in Yemen is a war against Iran -- but one that Congress has no interest in fighting. Yet war-averse Trump persists in supporting the Saudi coalition. Why? Something isn't adding up here.

Mueller's investigation excluded any examination of foreign nations other than Russia, but his report identified a troubling loophole that could have dire effects on American foreign policy. According to the report, there's no legal precedent for prosecuting campaign assistance provided by foreign entities when it's in the form of information or opposition research, if only because its value can't be determined.

In the art world, that's called "priceless." And until that egregious loophole for the provision of priceless foreign assistance is closed, it raises the question of whether any such favors provided by foreign governments could account for some of the odd choices made by a president or by those in his entourage responsible for American foreign policy.