At some point, Special Counsel Robert Mueller will complete his investigation. He could bring criminal charges, name other co-conspirators, comment on possible grounds for impeachment, or determine that no further legal action is necessary.
Whatever his decision, a significant number of Americans will likely disagree with the outcome. Some have not followed news reports about Russian interference in the 2016 election very closely. Some, on both the right and the left, will have a faulty understanding of the events under investigation because they access only partisan media sources.
Some will question Mueller’s judgment, intelligence, and politics. There will likely be public protests. There could even be violence.
So, as important as Mueller’s current work is, what follows will be even more so. In reacting to Mueller’s findings, our country will either coalesce or fracture further. Here are six things we should all want to see.
Transparency and Truth
If there are criminal prosecutions (or impeachment), those proceedings will take precedence, of course. But Americans will need, and deserve, as comprehensive and expeditious release of information from the Russia probe as possible, if we hope to forge a consensus understanding of what happened.
The Justice Department should release Mueller’s final report (including sensitive information that can be declassified) as soon as possible. Mueller will want to work with Congressional leaders from both parties to explain his decisions and allay suspicions.
As an important supplement to any judicial proceedings (and what will hopefully be bipartisan reports from the House and Senate committee investigations), we should consider creating a mechanism that offers the public an opportunity to hear directly and in detail from investigators and subjects of the probe in a forum that is insulated from obfuscation and partisan spin. One potential mechanism would be some sort of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which can compel truthful and full testimony and offer those who committed criminal or otherwise disloyal acts the opportunity to express remorse.
The pressing need for a reexamination of current law is underscored by the uncertainty among legal scholars whether collaboration by American citizens with a foreign government to subvert our democratic processes is illegal if it does not also contravene campaign finance law or some other statute.
Without bringing back the Alien and Sedition Acts or expanding the definition of treason too broadly, we should be able to identify actions that are not now specifically prohibited but should be.
Constitutional law experts should lead an effort to think through current impeachment law, sovereign immunity, presidential pardons, and related concepts to determine whether they need to be revisited. Experts in international law, meanwhile, should explore the desirability/feasibility of additional international legal instruments or declarations covering information war and cyber space. Such an effort could usefully strengthen legal prohibitions and norms against cyber aggression (and signal American resolve to defend ourselves).
Consequences for Americans Who Worked to Undermine Our Democratic Election Process
If criminal acts have taken place (or “high crimes and misdemeanors,” for impeachable officials), there should be consequences for the perpetrators beyond prosecution/impeachment, including civil liabilities for individuals or entities involved.
Whether as part of criminal plea bargains or the resolution of civil cases, it may be appropriate to limit perpetrators’ involvement in regulated political activities (as with registered lobbyists, for example), revoke tax exempt status for organizations, or disbar lawyers.
In addition to legal sanctions, any individuals shown to have been involved in undermining American democracy in cooperation with a hostile foreign power should face social and professional consequences (e.g., concerning membership in professional associations, paid speaking invitations).
Consequences for Foreign Actors
If Mueller confirms the judgment of the Intelligence Community that Russia worked to undermine our institutions and political discourse, there must be a foreign policy response that is both a proportionate punishment and sufficient deterrent of future adventurism. It is clear that the Obama administration’s actions in December, including small-scale expulsions of Russian diplomats, were of limited value.
Reestablishing deterrence against attacks on our political infrastructure is relevant not just to Moscow. Other foreign governments have the ability to do what Russia is accused of, and the number of capable adversaries will continue to climb. It is vital we make clear such activities will not be tolerated.
There are many parts of the federal government involved in counter-intelligence and cyber defense. In addition to providing them with sufficient resources to counter internet-enabled attacks or manipulation, we should ask whether we are appropriately organized for the growing threat.
A technocratic effort with representatives from government, the private sector, academia, print and broadcast media, and non-governmental organizations could assess current (and future) threats and make recommendations for legal, policy, or organizational reform.
Patriotism and National Unity
The 2016 election was a dispiriting reminder of America’s deep political divide. Too many Americans –Democrat and Republican – pick a political “team” and support it unquestioningly. What should be a spirited debate between compatriots can seem more like a death match between enemies.
The time is right to establish a bipartisan national commission, led by two broadly respected Americans, to make recommendations about how to strengthen national unity. It could examine proposals for universal national service, for example, or other mechanisms to bridge our country’s significant geographic divides (regional, urban/rural, and coastal/heartland). It could examine whether we need to resurrect or strengthen civic education in schools.
It could promote the obligations of American citizenship, including a faithfulness to our common welfare, and cultivate a nobler national discourse – and help mend the frayed ties that bind us together.