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What, Exactly, Does McConnell Mean When He Says ‘Case Closed’?

Honestly, it’s hard to say.
May 7, 2019
What, Exactly, Does McConnell Mean When He Says ‘Case Closed’?
Mitch McConnell. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell went to the Senate floor Tuesday to declare… not much. In a feverishly hyped floor address, McConnell declared of the Mueller investigation: “Case closed.” But what that means is entirely unclear.

For example, McConnell mentioned the upcoming release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 elections. Is the case closed if the committee has yet to complete its report?

McConnell made it very clear that, in his eyes, the Mueller report had once and for all removed the possibility of conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Opponents could quibble that the case of Roger Stone, who it appears acted as a link in the Trump campaign-Stone-WikiLeaks-GRU chain, is still ongoing and information pertaining to the case is redacted from the Mueller report. A more epistemologically minded critic could argue that absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, especially when

some of the individuals [the investigators] interviewed or whose conduct [they] investigated-including some associated with the Trump Campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records… Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.

But fine. Let’s accept for the purposes of argument that there was no conspiracy, as appears to be conclusion of Volume I of the Mueller report.

And to anyone wondering about the glaring fact of the attack itself, and whether it deserves some attention, McConnell has that covered, too:

We have a new, coherent national security strategy and national defense strategy that actually take the threat seriously. We have new sanctions. We’ve provided Georgia and Ukraine with weapons to better defend themselves, capabilities the previous administration denied our partners — now listen to this — out of fear of provoking Russia. We’ve worked against pipeline projects like Nord Stream 2. We strengthened NATO so the alliance can present a united front. We improved Russia’s compliance with the INF and walked away from a treaty that Moscow had turned into a sham. And the Trump administration has, over Russian objections, twice enforced President Obama’s red line in Syria after Assad’s use of chemical weapons. Now with respect to election security, Congress appropriated hundreds of millions of dollars to state governments to shore up their systems. The administration increased information sharing from the Department of Homeland Security in cooperation with the states. And according to press reports, the Department of Defense has expanded its capabilities and authorities to thwart cyber threats to our democracy.

Contra McConnell, it’s not clear if adding to Vladimir Putin’s headaches in the “near abroad” makes election interference less attractive or more so, but it’s worth a shot. Besides, there are other good reasons not to allow aggressive wars in Europe whether or not they involve American elections.

Strange, though, that McConnell failed to mention much of anything Congress had done, apart from appropriate a modest amount of money. Perhaps that’s because McConnell has failed to throw his support behind two bills that would do more than throw money at the problem, the DETER Act, which would trigger automatic sanctions in response to future election interference, and the Secure Elections Act, which includes a host of reforms to state and federal threat information sharing, voting machine technology mandates, and cyber security best practices for election systems. Perhaps acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney told McConnell, too, that election security “wasn’t a great subject.”

Instead, McConnell spent much of his speech castigating the Obama administration’s international weakness, arguing that eight years of supine foreign policy attracted election interference. That may or may not be true, but like so much else in McConnell’s speech, the Obama administration isn’t exactly a pressing concern right now.

McConnell’s speech completely ignored whether or not the president had committed felonious obstructing of justice, as more than 450 former federal prosecutors from Republican and Democratic administrations say he likely did.

McConnell also ignored the national security and counterespionage implications of the Mueller investigation. Case closed on them, too?

At the end of McConnell’s speech, it’s not clear what case is definitively closed, apart from the collusion theory. So what did the speech actually accomplish?

Trump hasn’t tweeted about it yet, so it’s hard to tell.

Benjamin Parker

Benjamin Parker is a senior editor at The Bulwark.