Malcolm Nance: Mueller gave Trump a pass for "the greatest scandal in American history"

Author and former intelligence officer says Mueller "pulled every punch," Trump must be impeached to save America

By Chauncey DeVega

Senior Writer

Published May 22, 2019 3:30PM (EDT)


On April 18, Attorney General William Barr released his redacted version of special counsel Robert's Mueller's report about the Trump-Russia scandal and obstruction of justice. What did this report reveal?

Donald Trump and his inner circle both publicly and privately colluded with a foreign power and its representatives to influence the 2016 presidential election and ensure Trump's victory. Both in public and private, Trump obstructed justice in an effort to stop Mueller's investigation. By virtue of his behavior as detailed in the Mueller report and his other conduct in office — all of which easily meets the standard for "high crimes and misdemeanors" — Trump should be impeached, convicted and removed from the presidency.

But on April 18 the world did not stop. America's political terrain has not been radically changed in the weeks since. Malignant reality has not ended, nor did the clouds over American democracy and society suddenly clear. Pre-Mueller-report America is unfortunately much the same as Post-Mueller-report America. A would-be fascist and authoritarian is still in power, and his minions and enablers continue to assault the rule of law and the Constitution.

Democrats, liberals, progressives, never-Trumpers, and other people of conscience see a president who is a dire threat to America and the world. Republicans, conservatives and other Trump supporters see a hero who is helping them create their warped and deranged version of America. Once again right-wing tribalism and lockstep loyalty to the conservative movement, in combination with Trump's cult-like appeal and power, means that partisanship is more important than patriotism for the Republican Party and its allies.

Except for some specific details, Mueller's findings were predictable. This does not make them any less damning.

Malcolm Nance is one of the leading voices who for years has been sounding the alarm about Donald Trump and his coterie's connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin and his government. Nance was a career intelligence and counterterrorism officer who has served with U.S. Special Operations forces, the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies. He has worked in the Middle East, North Africa, the Balkans, South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. A frequent guest contributor on MSNBC, Nance is the author of several books, including two bestsellers directly addressing this crisis: "The Plot to Hack America: How Putin's Cyberspies and WikiLeaks Tried to Steal the 2016 Election" and "The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West."

Was Nance correct in his predictions about the Mueller Report, Trump, Russia and obstruction of justice? What, if anything, was he wrong about? Is Donald Trump actually an agent of Russia? Why does Nance believe that he has been vilified as a "conspiracy theorist"? Why were so many journalists easily convinced by Attorney General William Barr's dishonest summation of the Mueller report's findings? Is Mueller a patriot or a coward for his refusal to recommend the indictment and prosecution of Donald Trump? How would Malcolm Nance convince House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that Democrats must immediately begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump?

My conversation with Malcolm Nance has been edited for clarity and length. You can hear our full conversation on my podcast, "The Chauncey DeVega Show."

In the eyes of some people you are now deemed to be a "conspiracy theorist." Your detractors say that you were wildly incorrect about Donald Trump and the Russia scandal. How do you reconcile what you wrote and said about Donald Trump and Russia in your various books and interviews, compared to William Barr's memo and his redacted version of the Mueller report?

The Barr memo basically said that the entirety of everything we had seen with our own eyes and heard with our own ears and which was all recorded was wrong. Barr basically said, "Simply no collusion, no obstruction of justice." For people who were  looking to believe such a thing, which is of course everyone on the right wing — but also some people on the left, such as the Glenn Greenwalds and the Matt Taibbis and others who like to say they're of the left but in reality are libertarians who are supportive of Moscow — they all collectively pounced on the Barr report.

The Mueller report, when it finally came out, confirmed every word that I had ever written. In fact, even more so because Mueller and his team had access to intelligence information that I could not know about. I had detailed much of Mueller's findings in my first book "The Plot to Hack America," which came out six weeks before the 2016 presidential election. In fact, I was the first person in the U.S. news media to go on air and explain that this was a foreign attack designed to elect Donald Trump. I have reiterated that fact every week and almost every day for three years.

Where people got taken in by the Bill Barr memo, even now, is that they thought, "Oh, this guy is going to be a straight shooter. Mueller wrote this great report. It was cut and dried."

Instead Barr comes out and says, "No conspiracy, no collusion, no obstruction of justice," which means that either everything we had seen with our own eyes was a lie and that is absolutely impossible. The day after that, I was asked on TV, "Well, what do you think is going on? Do you think this is a cover-up by Bill Barr?"

And I said, "You know what? I don't know, because no one has seen the Mueller report." I also said, "I don't know, because I cannot imagine that Bill Barr would commit the greatest scandal in American history by covering up the greatest scandal in American history." Twenty-four hours later, we found out that's exactly what happened.

Why did so many people in the mainstream news media fall for  Barr's memo? Are they just suckers who were conned? Barr was installed by Trump as a human insurance policy to place him above the law, and to position Trump as some type of king or emperor.

What America has been suffering through for the last three years — and now going on four years with Trump — is what other countries around the world have already experienced. Gen. [Valery] Gerasimov is the chief of staff of the Russian armed forces. In the early 2000s, he and Russian intelligence developed an information warfare strategy that involves crafting meta-narratives. For example: "Trump is good and Russia is good and Hillary is bad." This is a strategic information warfare tool.

Now that social media is fast enough to handle disinformation on a great scale, the Russians figured out that they could actually change the mindset of a foreign population enough to where there would actually be private citizens, regular people, who would facilitate their hostile activities. This strategic information war would be an information bubble where whatever was discussed within it would support the Russians' perspective and goals.

Imagine how powerful that is. In the United States we already had an information bubble that fractured the news media and how people saw the United States. This is Fox News and conservative websites like Breitbart, the Washington Times and others of their stripe, that would only report from a position favorable to conservatives no matter what the real facts are.

What were the areas of overlap between what the Mueller Report revealed and what you predicted and have otherwise detailed?  

When I wrote "The Plot to Hack America," I immediately started my second book, "The Plot to Destroy Democracy." This second book was an overview of Russia's grand strategy such as how they basically control numerous political parties in Europe such as Viktor Orbán in Hungary, who is almost a semi-fascist. Co-opting conservative political parties was really the test bed for a lot of Russia's information warfare plans. In my book I also explain how in the United States the NRA, right-wing Christian evangelicals and the alt-right fit into Russia's plans.

My books cover much of what Robert Mueller explained in the report. But the key difference was that Mueller created a legal standard that was almost impossible to meet. In fact, Mueller actually says, "Collusion is not a word with legal standing." What they instead were looking for was "cooperation" which leads to "conspiracy." Cooperation, in Mueller's terms, is that you had to have had an express agreement between two parties. This is almost like how in  the intelligence world we get agents to sign contracts. Mueller did not include actions or acts which overlapped or benefited each other.

This leads to is a situation where if I'm watching you open the bank door with your hood on and a gun, and I come running in behind you with a hood and a gun, and you go over to the counter and start throwing money over the counter and I take that money and run out the door and put it in a car, since there was no expressive agreement between either of us it isn't a conspiracy. But clearly one action informed the other one.

The thing is, Mueller hinted at this in many places, such as where he said, "The Trump campaign expected to benefit from the actions of Russia." Well, how can you expect to benefit from Russia? Mueller really gave Trump and his people quite a pass. The most damning example could be viewed as when Donald Trump Jr. meets with the Russians. Mueller did not indict him because the people in that meeting did not seem to be aware of campaign finance law.

Ignorance of the law is no excuse. They gave Donald Trump Jr. a complete pass. A qualifier:  I do not know whether Robert Mueller gave them that pass or Rod Rosenstein gave them that pass. Mueller made it pretty clear that obstruction of justice was designed by Trump, as he said, to cover up activities or crimes which could be found out by further inquiry by the special counsel. The conspiracy still lies there.

From an intelligence professional's point of view, would there ever be a contract? How would a foreign intelligence agency actually develop and work a human asset?

There are many people who are invested in protecting Trump. There are people, for example, who accuse me of saying, "Well, you said Donald Trump was a Russian agent." I have never, ever said Donald Trump was a Russian agent. What I did say was that there is a path for how people may end up working with a foreign power or agency.

The first is, you're a "useful idiot." That is an old Soviet term for people who are just so dimwitted and so self-serving that what they do is useful to a foreign power. Next, there is an unwitting asset. An unwitting asset is a person who is being shaped into positions, activities and roles which directly benefit another power, but which may in fact benefit that person. But the target does not know that this shaping activity has been crafted around him.

A good example of that could be Deutsche Bank. Maybe Donald Trump had no idea why Deutsche Bank was loaning him money? They thought he was awesome? But in fact that money could have been funded by a foreign power without Trump's knowledge. I do not know. The Mueller report did not have a say on that.

The next example is a witting asset. A witting asset is a person or entity who knows that there is a foreign power working in their interest. They are benefiting from it and they don't care. They will keep doing whatever they need to do or whatever needs to be done for that foreign power to keep supporting them, whether it's financially, emotionally, whatever it is. You could say that Donald Trump is a very witting asset when it comes to his Trump International Hotel, the people who go to Mar-a-Lago and take memberships for tens of thousands of dollars. Trump knows that others are benefiting him.

The biggest example was Trump's "Russia, if you're listening" speech. Trump was well aware of what he was doing at that point. He had to have been aware, because it was all over the news for weeks and weeks that Russia was conducting intelligence activities in his interest. Then the public was told about the Trump Tower meeting with his son — which means Donald Trump had to have been aware of it. Then we found out, in fact, that the Trump Tower Moscow deal was still being negotiated while Trump was running for president. That too was in his interest to be aware of. These things make Donald Trump a witting asset.

Foreign powers, foreign intelligence agencies do have agents. These are people with whom they make signed contracts and they have tasking duties, they have jobs that they must do and fulfill. They have reporting schedules. They have briefings and debriefings. They are actually agents, subcontractors to a foreign intelligence agency. I've never said that Trump was that, although you could say that with his memorandum of understanding about getting a multibillion-dollar building in Moscow, one would not need an actual signed contract. Trump, again, worked in such a way that he is a witting asset for Russia. Trump performed all the acts that they wanted.

Trump and his inner circle and other agents did not tell the FBI that the Russian government through their representatives was reaching out to them. And what about the evidence that was destroyed, witnesses who did not cooperate and other things that were done to hamper Mueller's investigation? This is not the behavior of innocent people.

Not at all. That's why the Mueller report looks much like my two books, because what I was alleging was quite simple. In virtually every case, there was a key piece of information missing. For example, Mueller characterized that as people failing to cooperate, people destroying documents, people using encrypted communications apps and erasing them so that they were unrecoverable. Mueller can only go with what facts are physically present. To be quite honest, I think more than a bit of this was massaged by Rod Rosenstein. Because Rosenstein had input on the entire thing, and now we've found out that Rosenstein may have been a sleeper agent for Trump because he was afraid of losing his job.

Is Donald Trump under the influence of a foreign power? This is the question on the table that was not even investigated. Is Trump in debt in some way? Or is he just in love to the point where he is compromised, as president of the United States, to a foreign power? We see how Trump behaves. We see how he acts. We see how he will never, ever insult Vladimir Putin. He is obsequious to the nth degree. We are talking about a president of the United States who is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Moscow and I believe that to be true, whether it's in debt or whether it's in love.

With Barr's memo and the redacted Mueller report, Donald Trump is unleashed and fully out of control in his assault on the rule of law and democracy. How does this serve Russia's strategic goals?

It is simple. You have to step on a ruined United States and take away its trade. You have a president of the United States who, through his own crafting, his own ignorance or the shaping of information from foreign powers of whom he is in terrible admiration, will do things that damage the United States.

Now, put someone like that in office and this foreign power can break the American power structure around the world to the point where the foundation is cracked.  China's doing it.

You mentioned Glenn Greenwald earlier, who is a former columnist for Salon, as well as the Guardian. Why has he been so critical of you?

I don't know. Maybe it is just the fact that I now have a national platform. Greenwald is a has-been. The last great thing he did in media was to help expose the National Security Agency. I worked for the National Security Agency. It did not please me to see what happened to the hard work of really dedicated men and women who just loved the country. They're not conservative for the most part. They're all very well-educated. They leave their politics at home when they come through the doors of that building. So all of their hard work was exposed and Greenwald gets a Pulitzer for this, which is fine.

What [Edward] Snowden exposed was not spying on American citizens. He just exposed all of our defenses. Every damn defense we had, he exposed. Snowden joined to do this which is why he's wanted for violating the Espionage Act of 1970. Do you know how hard it is to get that raised against you? It's divulging classified information. Glenn Greenwald facilitated the exposure of this and then facilitated what technically amounts to Snowden's defection to Moscow. Greenwald still visits Snowden in Moscow. Snowden is under the direct control of Russian intelligence. He literally lives in an FSB safe house. He gets access to people only because the FSB allows him to. He may not think that, but it's true. Snowden's attorney is a lawyer for the FSB.

If Robert Mueller testifies before Congress what do you think he will say? What do you hope he says?

I hope Mueller will testify and say, "Well, I would have indicted him." But Mueller did not have to follow the DOJ memorandum about indicting sitting presidents. He didn't. He's a special counsel. Mueller could have just come right out and said, "This president needs to be indicted." But Mueller chose not to do that. The media gave me the impression that he viewed the world the way I view the world, which was as a patriot and someone who would never let the establishment get in his way.

In reality, it turned out that Mueller was an institutionalist. He literally stuck to every guideline that was given to him in the face of all the evidence. Then Mueller pulled every punch that was thrown. Either he pulled it, Rod Rosenstein pulled it or Barr pulled it. I don't know yet. I don't know how Mueller thinks. 

I really hope Mueller comes out and says, "I love this country and the Constitution more than I love the constraints of the institution, the Department of Justice. Here's the facts: every one of these damn people should have gone to jail, and to save the nation the president needs to be indicted and impeached. That's what I was trying to tell you, but maybe I did it wrong."

How did Mueller know that Barr was going to come out and redefine the entire report? There's no doubt that Donald Trump's obstruction of justice far eclipses Nixon as the greatest scandal in American history.

If Nancy Pelosi reached out to you for advice about impeaching Donald Trump, what would you tell her? How would you make the case?

I would make the case very simply. Believe this: I'm a strict constitutionalist. I love the American experiment. You must save this nation now. If you don't impeach Donald Trump, you have given permission for everything that he has done and no president will ever be held to any standard of "high crimes and misdemeanors" anymore. This will be true, of course, until the next Democrat is president. Then anything, like waking up in the morning, will be considered a high crime and misdemeanor by the Republicans.

The president of the United States should not be coddling foreign dictators. The president should not literally be removing mentions of democracy from the State Department platform. What Trump is doing with human rights and democracy is disgraceful. It's disgraceful and it's hurtful. It spits in the eye of 244 years of American goodness. Granted, we go back and forth. We make mistakes all the time, but we move forward. What Trump is doing is transforming America into an alternate reality where evil is celebrated. That's not America.

What do you think America will look like in 25 or 50 years if Trumpism is allowed to stand unabated? 

Maybe Mueller wasn't the Eliot Ness-like figure we thought he was. Maybe Robert Mueller was a weak man. Maybe being so institutionally inclined, he pulled his punches. Maybe Robert Mueller was more of a Republican than he was a conservative. But Mueller gave Donald Trump permission to just go crazy after the Barr memo came out. Anything that happens from this point on, where Trump pushes the boundaries, I blame the Mueller report, because it should have been the ultimate check on the decency of the presidency and the dignity of the office.

We can all see Trump's presidency is a continuing criminal enterprise. There are still multiple investigations out there which Mueller conducted. Maybe Mueller thought, "It's money that's going to take him down, not the rest of this." But then again there are these people like Rod Rosenstein. We found out that Rosenstein was afraid of losing his job. Good God! If I were Rosenstein I would've lost my job and I would have stormed right out to the sidewalk and I would've said, "Press conference!" Then I would have said, "This is not America."

Twenty-five years from now, if Trump remains in office the American experiment will fundamentally break. That makes me sad. That hurts. These people, Trump and his allies, see another America. They see an America which is tribally white and where that white tribe dominates over all other tribes. That means 40% of this country will dominate the other 60%. Americaa will become an apartheid country. It's disgusting, it's despicable and it is wholly un-American.

By Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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