Photo Credit: Vanity Fair

By Braxton Barnhill

On March 22, the long-awaited report by the FBI’s special counsel Robert Mueller concerning the 2016 election was finally released to Attorney General William Barr, and two days later, Barr released a four-page summary of it to the United States Congress.

The report was a summary of an investigation done by the Department of Justice that took almost two years and cost over $25 million to complete. The report was requested due to a variety of events that happened during the 2016 presidential election.

In Jan. 2017, it was confirmed by US intelligence agencies that the Russian government made numerous attempts in a variety of ways to influence the outcome of the US election. The goal of the investigation was originally to determine in what way did Russia meddle in the presidential elections and if they meddled in a way that helped one candidate over the other.

Later the investigation also consisted of discovering if Russia interfered with the intent of helping Donald Trump win, and to answer the question, “Did Russia interfere to help Donald Trump to the extent that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to aid their influence over the election?”

During the entire investigation, Trump and his administration vehemently denied any collusion or involvement with Russia regarding Trump’s presidential campaign. The investigation was originally headed by the Director of the FBI James Comey. But while James Comey was investigating, he made it clear that Donald Trump himself was not under investigation.

Yet, Trump raised the suspicion of many Americans when in May of 2017 he fired Comey from his position as the Director of the FBI, early into Comey’s investigation.

Eight days later, the Department of Justice Special Counsel division opened their own investigation headed by special counsel Robert Mueller. Mueller headed the investigation from May of 2017 until March of 2019.

During this time, five members that at some point were involved with Trump’s campaign were arrested and charged with crimes, along with President Trump’s former lawyer.

Although these members of his campaign or administration were indicted by Mueller during his investigation regarding Russian collusion, only three of the six were charged with crimes directly related to the Russian investigation. Most of the charges of the three consisted of lying about having contacts with Russian agents or officials and the nature of these contacts. The other two, Paul Manafort and Richard Gates, were indicted on charges that were mostly related to financial crimes.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer, was charged with a variety of crimes, including breaking campaign finance laws by using money from Trump’s campaign to pay off an adult film star that claimed to have had an affair with the president.

Of the five members closely related to Trump’s campaign who were charged, four have pleaded guilty, while the last is still in court.

During the investigation, at least two dozen Russian operatives were charged for their role in influencing the election.

Thirteen were charged for their role in creating fake social media accounts that were geared at widening the political divide in the US in hopes of influencing the election in President Trump’s favor. Some of the social media accounts had millions of followers on various social media websites and spread false information about Hillary Clinton, while some of the other fake accounts attempted to increase voting amongst conservatives that were still on the fence about voting for Trump.

Another twelve were charged in overseeing or participating in the hacking of John Podesta’s emails, who ran Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and the hacking of the Democratic National Committee emails as well. Disparaging information about Hillary Clinton found in these emails were strategically released indirectly by Russia right before the election.

Both the fake accounts run by Russian agents and the hacking of emails are both said to have played a role in the election’s outcome.

These events during the investigation, along with a variety of things that were made public during the investigation, elevated the anticipation of its final results.

In March 2019, William Barr released his summary of the investigation, and in that summary, Barr stated that Mueller’s investigation discovered that there were no attempts by President Trump or his campaign to collude with the Russian government to influence the outcome of the election.

The report stated that that although President Trump was not implicated in committing a crime, he was still not completely exonerated from having committed any crimes. Many Republican politicians and supporters of President Trump used the summary of the report to validate Trump and his administration’s consistent account that there was no collusion and that the investigation was a “witch hunt.”

Most Democratic politicians immediately stated doubts about most of the results and argued that there should be no assumption of the Trump campaigns innocence until Muller’s full report is released and not just a summary of it. Many Democrats also attempted to point out that it is a fact that Russia still influenced the election with the intention of helping Trump, regardless of whether his campaign was aware of it or not.

Either way, this investigation, its results and the results that are still to come have all been a part of one of the most serious presidential investigations since Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal in the 1970s. Unlike Mueller’s investigation, the investigation into Watergate ended with the president resigning before the investigation was even over.

To the dismay of many Democratic politicians and opponents of Trump who were hoping the investigation into collusion would end similarly to Watergate, Trump is still the sitting president, and there is no reason to believe that any matter concerning Russia’s involvement in the election will change that.

There are still many questions regarding the 2016 election that linger and will continue to linger, the primary one being: How can the U.S. protect itself from influence from foreign governments into important elections? And how can the U.S. rebuild itself after these tumultuous political times?

No matter the outcome of the release of the full investigation, which is expected to come in mid-April, after it is over, Americans on all sides of the political spectrum will be looking to come together to find ways to bridge the political and cultural gap that has been widened by some of the most divisive events in America in at least a generation — events including but certainly not limited to Robert Mueller’s probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.