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In our opinion: Mueller's statement: The last thing said was the first thing forgotten

Special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Washington, about the Russia investigation.
Special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Washington, about the Russia investigation.
Carolyn Kaster, AP

On Wednesday, special counsel Robert Mueller closed his first, and probably last, public appearance regarding the investigation into alleged Russian attacks on the U.S. election system with this conclusion: “There were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

Unfortunately, the last thing said was the first thing forgotten.

National discussion instead turned to other declarations Mueller made during the nine-minute statement. Indeed, the Department of Justice could neither determine if the president committed crimes of obstruction nor say he was exonerated from wrongdoing. That, says Mueller, is for Congress to decide.

Investigating whether a sitting president committed a crime is serious business, and it’s vital Congress performs its duties of oversight. Equally vital is that lawmakers carry out those duties according to the highest standards of fairness and objectivity.

But a frenzy over impeachment proceedings misses the thrust of both Mueller’s statement and his two-year, multi-million dollar investigation: Foreign agents compromised U.S. democracy.

As Mueller urges, that should be on the mind of every American, and it deserves the attention of officials at every level of government.

According to Mueller, Russia used “sophisticated cybertechniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign,” stole private information and promoted that information through fake online profiles. The efforts were “designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.”

As recently as April of this year, top government officials were concerned the country is still not ready to fend off a litany of potential cyberattacks aimed at throwing the 2020 election. “We recognize that our adversaries are going to keep adapting and upping their game,” FBI director Christopher Wray said during a speech in Washington last month following the release of a redacted version of Mueller’s report.

In preparation for safeguarding the U.S., the FBI has moved close to 40 agents and analysts to its counterintelligence division, the Department of Homeland Security established a new unit in its National Risk Management Center and the National Security Agency has expended an election security task force, according to The New York Times.

Still, a reported lack of coordination among Washington bureaucrats threatens to impede progress and leave vulnerable democratic processes. Whatever becomes of pending congressional investigations, securing the U.S. election system should be a nonnegotiable outcome of Mueller’s efforts.

Furthermore, Mueller deserves credit for his steady, almost invisible, profile the past two years. How he conducted one of the most politically divisive investigations in recent memory is evidence he was, as he alleged, “guided by principles of fairness.” Even to the very end, he didn’t sell out, refraining to answer questions from the press and signalling he would not appear before Congress.

Lawmakers now should let the same principles of fairness guide their actions by ensuring the country is safe from bad actors rather than losing themselves in partisan squabbles. America can’t afford to let seeds of division take root when democracy is on the line.