As the conflict churns ever-deeper, it appears as if the Trump administration is digging in as far as it can to try and ensure that the Mueller Report is not released. And if they can't block that, it will seemingly be redacted to the point on illegibility. Along with that, the White House also appears to be fighting as hard as possible to block the release of Trump's tax returns that have legally requested by the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to the IRS.
Certainly, I hope both the Mueller Report and tax returns get released. They are both critical to the same end, which is protecting the security of the United States. And the sooner they get released, the better and safer the country will be for knowing what to address the best way possible.
But let's do a "What if..."
What if the administration is successful in blocking the release of both, or redacts the Mueller Report to where it's incomprehensible and looks like 400 pages of black, interspersed by random patches of text? What then?
It would be a horrible situation -- but I think that it would be far, far, significantly-far worse for the Trump administration. Because their actions in trying to block it all is not only mind-numbingly foolish at this point and deeply counter-productive, making the situation significantly worse for themselves. I'll get to the latter in a moment.
The Trump people clearly seem to think that blocking all this information will keep it hidden and them safe. The thing is -- a great deal of the information is already researched and known by other U.S. intelligence agencies. Before the 2016 election, we know for a fact that intelligence services were warning of Russian attacks on the U.S. At the very least, they already had part of the information. It was told to the highest-security people on the Congressional intelligence committees. Further, and even more importantly -- the Mueller Report isn't even close to the last investigation into Trump's crimes, Trump's tax returns, and Russia's attacks. There are investigations by the House Intelligence Committee, the House Judiciary Committee, the House Ways & Means Committee, the House Financial Services Committee, the Southern District of New York investigations, investigations by the New York state Attorney General, the New York City District Attorney, involvement now by investigations in California and more.
For the Trump people to think that blocking the Mueller Report will put an end to the release of all details looking into Trump actions is like using a roll of Bounty paper towels to try and stop the flow of Niagara Falls. It's like putting your hands over your ears and shouting, "LaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLaLa" and thinking that that blocks out the sounds of the rock concert you're surrounded by so that no one else can hear it.
It might take longer for the important information to get uncovered and released, but most of it will get out. And we know this for certain because a lot of it already is out.
But Team Trump trying to block the release of the Mueller Report and tax returns is even worse than that. Significantly worse. And that's the second point, which the Trump administration and his enablers in Congress are causing even bigger problems for themselves.
After having Attorney General William Barr release his supportive letter on behalf of Trump, the White House was able to bask in that for a few days to set the foundation of their defense of falsely claiming full exoneration. And if at that point the Trump people had let the Mueller Report be released in full, they could have done what they always do -- attack the people behind it, lie about what it says, misinterpret statements, call it a Witch Hunt, say it's an "Deep State" smear by 13 Democrats in the FBI who investigated them, throw mud all over the place and create obfuscation, make it incomprehensible to understand. And as for releasing Trump's tax returns -- most people probably don't understand their own tax returns. So, creating doubt and uncertainty and bewilderment and making it all near-impossible for most people to understand what are surely deeply-arcane tax filings would be Standard Operating Procedure to Trump protectors by now.
But instead they're trying to block it all. Fighting, screaming, kicking to block everything. After saying he would release his taxes and after saying he wants the Mueller Report released, Trump is doing everything he can to block all of it. And everyone in his sphere is growing louder and more virulent by the day to block all of it.
And here's the thing --
People do understand THAT.
Most people probably wouldn't understand the minutiae of a counter-espionage investigation, especially when it's muddled as much as possible. And most people probably wouldn't understand abstruse tax law. But people understand, "No, I won't let you see it."
People understand the concept of "What is that you have in your hand? Can I see it? Why not? Just let me see it. Show me. Come on, open your hand. Don't put it behind your back, just let me see. Let me see. What's the problem? Why won't you show me? What are you hiding? Well, you must be hiding something. Just show me. Open your hand. Come on, just show me. Show it to me already."
People get that. And they get that the more you don't want to show them something, there's a reason you don't want to show it and are hiding something. I have a friend with a very smart 12-year-old daughter. Smart as she is, she doesn't get tax law or counter-espionage. But she does grasp, "No, I won't show you. You can't see it."
For that matter, people have also understood that the more you hide showing something, the more suspicious they become that you have something to hide.
And this is the starting point: by a massive majority, an NPR/PBS/Marist Poll shows that 75% of ALL Americans want to see the FULL Mueller Report. Democrats, Republicans, Independents alike. They want to see everything. And further -- only 18% don't want to see it all.
And that was as of a week ago. Before Trump, the White House, the full reach of the administration and Republicans in Congress began pushing back and saying, "No, no, no, no, no, you can't see it, you will never see it, not any of it, never, you can't see it!!!" Imagine how much more people will want to see it now, after all that -- and will want to see it more with each passing day that the administration says, "No, you can't see it."
And if the Trump circle does finally release the Report and it's full of so much redaction that it can't be understood -- if they'd done that on Day One, most people likely would have accepted that the blackouts are for good legal reasons. But after weeks and weeks of angry, blistering, aggressive "No,you can't see it!!! No, no, no, no, never, not ever, NO!!" -- the same people will instead now look at any redaction (that might even be benign) with pure, unadulterated suspicion.
As for the tax returns, they blew their chance to obfuscate the minutiae long ago. That's a lost cause. It's no longer a case of "Trump should release them" -- we're at the point where they are being ordered by law. And the administration makes it worse by challenging the release all in court -- something every single president has done voluntarily since Richard Nixon half a century ago -- then even winning in court will be a major loss. "What are you holding in your hand behind your back that you won't show us??" will be laid out fully bared.
I dearly hope the Mueller Report and Trump's tax returns get released soon. But so much worse will get out regardless. And the administration is making that even worse than it is. Which I must admit is a seriously impressive trick.
It's not everyone who can make a vacuum suck even more.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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