Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian efforts to influence, attack or sabotage the 2016 presidential election as well as involvement in this effort by officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign seems to have reached a fever pitch in the past month.
This seems especially the case with recent plea agreements, indictments and sentencing recommendations for Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen—all actors with close relationships to Trump, his campaign organization and lot of Russians.
Media coverage of Mueller’s ongoing investigation, which began in May 2017, has offered an unrelenting drumbeat. Those really interested in Mueller’s progress and findings need a scorecard to keep all the players straight.
Fortunately, several experienced investigative reporters recently have published books that offer just such guidance, two of them currently available at the Cannon Beach Library. Having lost track of the big picture of this investigation, I checked out “Russian Roulette: The Inside Story of Putin’s War on America and the Election of Donald Trump” (2018) by Michael Isikoff and David Corn and “Fear: Trump in the White House” (2018) by Bob Woodward.
Presently the chief investigative correspondent for Yahoo News, Isikoff has been an investigative journalist for the Washington Post, Newsweek and NBC News. He was on a Newsweek team that received the Ed Cunningham Memorial Award from the Overseas Press Club in 2001 for coverage of the war on terror, and the Book of the Month Club named his book “Uncovering Clinton” the Best Non-Fiction Book of 1999.
Corn, chief of the Washington bureau for Mother Jones and Washington editor for The Nation, received the 2012 George Polk Award for Political Reporting for his coverage of the “47 percent story” that revealed Mitt Romney’s comments about Obama supporters paying no income taxes at a $50,000-a-plate fundraiser, comments that hardly advanced Romney’s 2012 election chances.
“Russian Roulette,” the second book Corn and Isikoff have co-authiored, concentrates on a period beginning in 2013 when Trump desperately sought support of Vladimir Puten and oligarchs close to him to develop a Moscow Trump Tower, particularly before and during Trump’s Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. Corn and Isikoff conclude with a summary of the Mueller investigation in late 2017 and early 2018 as “Russian Roulette” went to press.
The strength of “Russian Roulette” as a guide to understanding events surrounding the 2016 election is it’s unrolling of facts, names and linkages between Trump’s world and Putin’s supportive oligarchs and cyber warriors. Equally important is their analysis of how media ignored the big story — criminal Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee site and John Podesta’s email — but focused on the content of stolen emails, strategically released to damage the Clinton campaign just before the election. As Trump’s “Access Hollywood” tape, once expected to end his campaign, quickly vanished from the headlines, media continued to remind voters of Clinton’s use of her private server for government communications. Hillary Clinton couldn’t catch a break as election day neared.
Woodward has worked for the Washington Post since 1971 as a reporter and now as an associate editor. Most famous for his reporting with Carl Bernstein on the Nixon Watergate coverup and co-authorship of “All the President’s Men” and the “Final Days” about life in the Nixon White House, Woodward has published 19 nonfiction bestsellers, has shared in two Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting and has received numerous other journalism honors and awards. He has earned a reputation for trustworthy investigative reporting solidly based on personal interviews and supported by multiple sources, documents and public records.
“Fear: Trump in the White House” — relies on traditional reporting methods Woodward has employed in his many insider accounts of the White House years of the last four presidents—methods that push narratives forward through factual statements and quotations with little editorial commentary.
Unlike “Russian Roulette,” “Fear” concentrates on the first 15 months of the Trump presidency with little attention to the Trump’s interests in Russia or the campaign prior to his inauguration. References to the campaign, Trump interests and activities in Russia and Russian interference in the presidential election allude to investigations by Congress, intelligence agencies and Mueller after Trump assumes the presidency.
Isikoff’s and Corn’s account of the Trump campaign and first year in office leaves little doubt but that members of his campaign staff and family did coordinate with the Russian effort to disrupt the 2016 election. By concentrating on policymaking arguments of Trump and his administration, Woodward remained seemingly disinterested in the collusion question and painted the Trump White House as far less disorderly than have Isikoff and Corn and numerous other journalists. The final paragraph of “Fear” — after John Dowd, the President’s defense attorney, resigns when Trump insists on testifying—suggests that not only Dowd but also Woodward suspects Mueller never had a solid collusion or obstruction case:
“But in the man and his presidency Dowd had seen the tragic flaw. In the political back-and-forth, the evasions, the denials, the tweeting, the obscuring, crying ‘Fake News,’ the indignation, Trump had one overriding problem that Dowd knew but could not bring himself to say to the president: ‘You’re a f---ing liar.’”
In addition to “Russian Roulette” and “Fear,” both available at the library, dedicated readers might use the library’s interlibrary loan service to obtain a copy of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” (2018) or two books by David Cay Johnston, a meticulous investigative and financial reporter, who has followed Trump’s career since the mid-1990s: “The Making of Donald Trump” and “It’s Even Worse than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America” (2018).