Jeremy Levine is an adjunct instructor at New York University (NYU), The College of New Jersey (TCNJ), and Pace University. At NYU, Levine teaches a class titled “From Russia with Love? The Mueller Investigation and the Transformation of American Politics.” Invited to campus by the American Whig-Cliosophic Society, Levine gave a lecture entitled “Contextualizing the Hearings,” where he discussed Robert Mueller ’66’s independent investigation into President Donald Trump and the impeachment process more generally. Following the event on Nov. 5, The Daily Princetonian had the opportunity to sit down with Levine to discuss all things impeachment.
The Daily Princetonian: Just to start, could you give readers some background into who you are and how you came to teach a class on Robert Mueller’s report?
Jeremy Levine: I started, I became an adjunct professor … it'll be three years ago in January. I teach a variety of different classes: political science, economics, sociology, business — you name it, I've taught it. From there, I've always been politically active, I’ve always been very interested. I was a registered Republican when I turned 18. No more.
And I was very early on when [Trump] was running for President, especially when it came to Russia and foreign policy. I'm like, something's off. Something's not right. Something's off. This isn't like McCarthy or Eisenhower-Goldwater-Reagan Republicans. This isn't even like George Bush and Dick Cheney, like there's something fundamentally different. And I understand political parties change. You can go from, like, the Southern Dixiecrats of George Wallace and Strom Thurmond to Barack Obama. The Republican Party 100 years ago under Teddy Roosevelt was considered progressive. I get things change, and I get people change parties over time. The Roosevelts were different parties, Winston Churchill changed a time or two, so I get that. But the reasons I'm seeing are not good, and there was nothing to me that, like, wasn't corrupt and wasn't off, so that's where I tried to sound the alarm, like, “There’s something not right.”
I was offered a job to work for the campaign at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016, on [sic] Manafort right before he resigned. I said no, because I'm not — even from, like, aside from the racism, sexism, anti-immigrant, all the other stuff that I don't want to get associated with — one of the other reasons I said was, “There’s something not right with your foreign policy.” So that's kind of how I fell into it. Then, this year was the year I finally, ever since I was following, I put it together as a lecture. And even I didn't realize, and I've been following it, how much there actually is — how much corruption there really is. It blows my mind, so I understand why people are overwhelmed and have questions because I didn't [get] it: “What do you mean you don't get it?” But then I understood, as I put it together, why people are confused.
DP: Okay, so then, I guess, in terms of that confusion, what common misconceptions about both the report itself and the impeachment discussion exist?
JL: The idea that he investigated conspiracy and not collusion. Collusion is not a crime. It is in antitrust with companies. Other than that, individual acts like obstruction of justice, witness tampering, money laundering, that could be types of collusion, but those are the crimes. Nobody's going to get indicted for collusion, so when they say no collusion or collusion is not a crime. Yeah, okay, technically, there was no collusion because that's not a legal term in this case, and collusion isn't a crime, but X, Y, and Z sure as hell counts as types of collusion, and whether or not there was a grand conspiracy behind those acts [was] what Mueller was investigating.
That's one really big misconception people miss, but it works … again with the investigation. Mueller had to stay silent, given how many people are involved, and you don't want to tip anybody off, but when you stay silent, you lose control [of] the narrative, and for a long time, Trump had control of the narrative with that. And I would also say when it comes to whether or not a sitting president can be indicted, the answer is we don't know. That stems from what I talked about with Watergate, and how that was meant to keep Spiro Agnew out of the presidency. Should Nixon resign, which he ended up having to do, it was not meant to be the be-all end-all discussion on it. It's never been legally tested. It's never been tried in the courts. There's nothing that says that that guideline or that memo is constitutional one way or another. So that's another big misconception, this idea that Trump can't be indicted. We don't know that. We have no idea.
DP: Mueller is one Princeton alum. Another Princeton alum, Marie Yovanovitch [’80], her testimony was released [recently]. I was wondering, did you read that transcript? Or just generally, what do you think of her role in the impeachment?
JL: Well, she's a victim. She got pushed out by Giuliani, his Ukrainian mob connections, to push a secret agenda that’s not in U.S. interests … You’re going to withhold aid until they give you dirt on a political opponent, not somebody, it's not like the DOJ was investigating someone and they wanted intelligence on that person. It wasn't like you were going after a terrorist in exchange for the aid. You were going after a political opponent, who may not even be the candidate, given his latest stumbles, and the primary as well. Especially given how much money Trump's kids have made off Trump's presidency, there's a lot of hypocrisy here. So she was a victim. She got pushed out because no honorable civil servant is going to tow that line. And when she said, “Well, I had to tweet or show my support for Trump to keep my job.” This is not what it's about. This is not a mafia operation, which is what Russia essentially is and how Trump treats the Office of the Presidency, like everyone's supposed to be loyal to him and serve him. And if you don't, you're fired. That's not how this works.
He views it like everybody in Washington are his employees. No, you're all employees of the American people, and he doesn't either seem to get it or doesn't want to get it. But she was a victim, and she got pushed out because she's not going to tow that corrupt Giuliani line. And it's unfortunate; she was a good ambassador. It's unfortunate what happened there.
DP: And I guess, from sort of a media perspective, what is the general news media doing right and what are they doing wrong in regards to their coverage of both the Mueller report and hearings, as well as just impeachment generally?
JL: I'm a big advocate of the Free Press, and I don't agree whatsoever with Trump's fake news narrative and all that other stuff. But the way that they've covered this investigation, the media? Almost sinful. It’s, I would say, sinful … how poorly of a job they have done. If someone says something that's not true, you don't need to run with it as a headline for Twitter clicks, okay? You don't need to give Kellyanne Conway time to say, you know, “Collusion, delusion,” with her signs. Your job is to just find out the facts. Stops reporting what someone says, or, “So and so said this.” Well so what? It's not true. Or stop giving people time, “Mueller said no obstruction no collusion.” No, he didn't say that. And yet the media runs with it all. “Oh [Attorney General William] Barr said there's no this, or there's no obstruction.” Okay, that's not what it said. You should be encouraging people to read the Mueller report, or at least use the control-F function to type in keywords if you don't want to read hundreds of pages of legal jargon, which I know many people don't don't have time to do. But it's been more about getting the next headline.
Or even the reporters who were like, “Oh, when's Mueller going to end?” They did that ever since he started, like, “I have the inside scoop. He's almost done.” It's not about when he's done. It didn't matter how long it took. We could argue maybe he ended it too soon, but reporters are too busy trying to get the scoop of when he's finished, are trying to get the attention headline, which Trump is great at. If nothing else, he's great at getting headlines, then actually covering what's happening. And one of the reasons why people are confused is the poor coverage being done. And that's outside of Fox News, which has been awful with this, probably the worst of all.
DP: Do you expect [Trump] to be first, impeached, and second, removed?
JL: I expect him to be impeached. I don't know what's going to happen after. It only takes 17 Republican senators to join the Democrats in the impeachment. So if they find him guilty, he's already out. Maybe he'll resign first and cut a deal if he gets a whiff that there's 17 senators about to jump ship … He will be impeached. I don't know what's going to come next, because I don't see McConnell finding a guilty verdict with two-thirds of the Senate.
But I also don't think he’s going to be on the ballot, so that can get very messy…