A Cold War Case of Russian Collusion

What the Investigation of a 1972 Stasi Operation Can Teach Us About the Mueller Report

Brandt addresses the Bundestag in Bonn, January 1971. Ludwig Wegmann / Bundesarchiv

In a matter of days, the U.S. Department of Justice will release a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It is tempting to believe that, at long last, Mueller will deliver the definitive account of Russia’s operation. But even after 22 months, 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, and 34 indictments, there is reason to expect that Mueller and his team of attorneys will not have uncovered the full story. When it comes to covert foreign electoral interference, probes are rarely conclusive: key witnesses live abroad, lies pass as truth, and unanswered questions can stay that way for decades, sometimes forever.

For the past two years, much of the U.S. news media has been drawing parallels between the Russia investigation and the Watergate investigation, which produced damning evidence against President Richard Nixon and ultimately led to his resignation. But there is a far better historical precedent for Mueller’s investigation. In 1973, while the U.S. Congress was investigating Nixon, the West German parliament, the Bundestag, formed an investigative committee of its own. The committee’s purpose was to probe possible interference in a parliamentary vote of no confidence held in an attempt to oust Chancellor Willy Brandt.

The vote, which had taken place the year before, came at a pivotal moment in West German and Cold War history. Brandt had just negotiated reconciliation agreements with the Soviet Union and Poland as part of his conciliatory Ostpolitik. The conservative opposition in the Bundestag, strengthened by a series of defections from Brandt’s coalition over the treaties, called the vote of no confidence to prevent their ratification. With Brandt’s future uncertain, the attention of world leaders turned to Bonn. “This is the first time in the whole postwar history that anyone has attempted a vote of no confidence. It shows how weak [Brandt’s] government is,” Henry Kissinger, the U.S. national security advisor, told Nixon in a private conversation the

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