As you might imagine, other news came along yesterday which pushed that out of today's line-up. And so instead we jump in for a look at Attorney General William Barr's summary letter about Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation report. I'm glad I waited, rather than writing something yesterday, since my opinion has shifted a bit, growing stronger. If only Mr. Barr had taken the same advice and didn't rush out his response. Though I suspect given the source it may not have mattered. After all, this was a man who pretty much had made up his made mind about the whole investigation and how it was inappropriate long before it was completed
The jumping off point is a short email I received from one of my various friends who was having a meltdown kind of day. He wrote --
"How does Mueller leave this up to Barr? How does Mueller not come to a conclusion? At the very least -- the LEAST -- how do you not indict Junior for perjury? And how does Barr so swiftly and conveniently exonerate? We have to see the report. None of this makes sense."
A few things. Starting with – I agree with my friend, of course.
There’s too much in Barr's summary that doesn’t make even the remotest sense. After all, there are already six guilty verdicts (so far) and 37 indictments. But according to Barr, all’s well. Trump is "exonerated." Nothing to see here, move along, folks.
A few thoughts do stand out.
First and most obvious is that it must be fully recognized (though it won't be by Trump and the far right) that this is a summary by Trump's appointed-Attorney General,, it is not Robert Mueller’s report. And Barr is drawing conclusions in two days that Mueller didn’t draw in two years. And most notable of those Barr conclusions is that Mueller Did Not exonerate Trump, but Barr does.
(Related to this is that the general standard on investigations, according to what federal prosecutors were saying, is that when the prosecutors draw no conclusions in their reports, it is unheard of for the Attorney General to then draw conclusions which were never made by those who did the investigating.)
Second, Barr says that the report claims there was no conspiring with “the Russian government”. Yet we know the reality is that there was, in fact, a great deal of contact with Russian oligarchs and Russian citizens who are not officially “the Russian government,” but the way Russia operates they pretty much are one and the same. So, that’s parsing words incredibly carefully by Barr. Oleg Derispaska is not part of the Russian government. He is, however, one of the most powerful Russian oligarchs and one of the closest allies of Vladimir Putin, and was very deeply involved conspiring with Trump's campaign manager Paul Manafort.
And third, not only is William Barr's appointed-Attorney General, he should never have been in a position of summarizing the Mueller Report and instead have recused himself. Remember, this is a man who wrote a private letter to the Justice Department when "auditioning" for the job of Attorney General and long ago had declared his personal position that the Mueller investigation was "grossly irresponsible." And this is the person "summarizing" Robert Mueller's two-year investigation in two days, and drawing conclusions he specifically notes that Mueller himself never drew.
That's why I say that the more I read, hear and think about Barr's summary, the more my galled reaction to Barr's action has grown stronger.
Former Deputy Attorney General Elliot Williams made the point on an MSNBC panel that Barr himself doesn't try to claim that Robert Mueller concluded there was no collusion -- rather, Barr explains only that the Report said there was no "chargeable collusion." That could mean there was indeed collusion, but there wasn't enough evidence to meet the standard of reasonable doubt needed to convict in court, which is required to bring an indictment. Or it could mean that there was such evidence, but a president can't be charged. Not having "chargeable collusion" does not mean there wasn't misconduct or collusion.
My understanding is that in his report Mueller looked at two things in terms of Russia – Russian attempts to manipulate the election, and quid quo pro interaction between Russians and the Trump administration. And according to Barr's summary Mueller said that, yes, there was clear evidence that Russia did attempt to manipulate the election, though nothing definitive that could be proven in terms of Trump campaign involvement in such actions specifically, and so no criminal charges could be brought on that. But Barr focuses solely on this first issue alone and totally ignores the critical quid pro quo aspect of it all, which is profound and substantive. (And includes, among other things, for one example the Trump Tower meeting.) That's a massive omission on Barr's part. It's like saying, "The police investigation shows evidence that it was the robbers alone who broke into the house, with no help from any accomplices, and all others are exonerated for that crime" -- but then leaving out mentioning that the same investigation said these accomplices appeared to have a deal in place to fence the stolen goods after the initial crime was committed.
I think the larger reality is that Democrats in Congress will without question be outraged by Barr's deeply partisan, very quick and inappropriate summary -- not even addressing how long Mueller's report was that he was summarizing -- and will do everything to get the full report and subpoena Mueller to appear. Much more will come out. And of course there’s still the Southern District of New York investigation, along with other New York City D.A. and New York state Attorney General investigations (and California is now involved) and House investigations. Unfortunately, this news "summary" yesterday from his Attorney General gives Trump and the far right cover to claim complete exoneration which with absolute certainty is not the case of the full report. But that’s where the House comes into play, and though the hurdle for them is now higher, it will be dealt with.
What’s odd is that I’m sure Trump and his supporters will try to claim this proves it was a witch hunt – when of course the very opposite is true, that by not making the indictments and being fair-minded, it shows how honest and open it all was. All the while still, I’m sure, finding wrongdoing.
And ultimately that’s one of the biggest points. Lost in all of this, and which I'm sure will remain lost to many is that the Special Counsel was not tasked to do a criminal investigation -- rather his sole job was to look into counter-espionage, and write a report on threats to the country. And so Robert Mueller can find grave threats caused by the administration that may not be actual crimes (or may be…) , yet nonetheless are still devastating misdeeds to the country. For instance, giving Jared Kushner a top security clearance isn’t a crime – but it puts the country at risk. Kushner and Don Jr. – and Trump – could have been compromised by Russians, yet not committed “a crime.” (Or an action that was "chargeable" as a crime.) That -- and that alone -- was what Mueller was tasked to find: threats by Russia to the country. Along the way, he found 6 guilty verdicts (so far) and 37 indictments. Many of the guilty verdicts were for lying – and clearly they were lying to hide SOMETHING.
More to the point, the Special Counsel was not tasked with investigating efforts by Trump and his administration to "aid and abet" Russia and its interests after the election, during his presidency. And we know that while all federal intelligence agencies (and the Mueller Report) say that Russia did, in fact, attempt to manipulate the election, Trump has repeatedly said he didn't believe them and even said he specifically believes Putin's denials, famously asking "Why would he?" None of that was under Mueller's purview, and none of it is necessarily a felony -- but it all certainly is an abrogation of one's oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and a danger to the country. Further, money laundering for Russia was not part of Mueller's task either, so he may not have felt compelled to recommend any indictments if it occurred, yet it certainly would be interesting to see if it's a subject mentioned in the full report, while ignored by William Barr.
That’s all now for Congress to investigate. And for the Southern District of New York. And…if he gets subpoenaed, for Robert Mueller himself to address in the full report, not a 4-page summary by a political hack on record beforehand trashing the process.
Does this make it easier for Trump in his re-election bid, as I have heard some claim? I'd put it this way -- I think it makes it less difficult. And that's not semantics. I think (based on his low approval ratings, the Democratic Blue wave in 2016 -- which centered on health care and the lack of immigrant "hordes" attacking the U.S. -- policies that separated parents from their children, support of murderous dictators, enabling of white supremacists, and two years pandering to his base without any attempt to expand it), Trump has an uphill race, so nothing for him will be easy. He most-certainly can win, but saying that anything makes his chances of re-election "easier" creates the wrong impression of the profound challenges he faces. It's not just that there are more investigations, but there will be more revelations (some devastating), and more indictments. And there will be the full Mueller report -- which for all we know may address all the actions for which Trump could have been indicted, but wasn't indicted simply because he is president and it is Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president. Perhaps not. But we haven't seen the full Report, yet have seen that it DOES NOT EXONERATE Trump. What Trump doesn't have to deal with now this is an indictment from the Mueller Report (which few expected) and gets to be covered by an inappropriate summary by his hand-picked Attorney General who was long on record as being against the investigation. That does not make anything "easier" for Trump -- it makes some things less difficult. Which given the deep range of problems Trump and his crime family face does qualify as at least a positive.
But if they are celebrating it is a massive mistake. In the end, over the next year-and-a-half I have no doubt that there will be more headlines of corruption that will make today's news seem almost a distant memory.