It is great news for the United States of America that Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge the president with conspiring with a foreign government. That is what we learned from the letter authored this weekend by Attorney General William Barr-a man who got the job after he wrote a 19-page memo attacking the Mueller probe. No one outside the Justice Department has seen The Mueller Report-only The Barr Letter.
As Charles P. Pierce wrote Sunday, Barr's language is tailored to place the findings in the best possible light for the president. Will Saletan also focused on Barr's language in Slate: does "the Russian government" include Natalya Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer at the Trump Tower meeting? She was not technically a government employee. While Barr almost certainly has accurately quoted the line from Mueller's report-"conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities"-we'll need to see the actual report to get a gauge of what the evidence was and why it did not rise to the level of a prosecutable offense.
Beyond the collusion question, though, Barr took Mueller's non-decision on possible obstruction of justice-the special counsel declined to come down on either side, but was clear the evidence did not exonerate the president-and made a decision himself over the weekend. Barr simply declared, citing a concurrence from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, that there was insufficient evidence to charge obstruction. This happens to line up pretty nicely with the conclusion that Barr reached while observing the investigation from the outside like the rest of us-the conclusion he put in that 19-page memo.
But surely Mueller did not intend to leave this decision up to the man who was installed a little over a month ago having written a memo attacking the probe specifically on the obstruction-of-justice question. Surely he meant to leave it to Congress. But either way, again, there's one thing to keep in mind: pretty much nobody has seen The Mueller Report. All we've seen is The Barr Letter, and it ain't the same.
Considering that, this New York Times front page is rather strange.
Two front pages worth comparing. pic.twitter.com/RXZLU1WHT6- James Fallows (@JamesFallows) March 25, 2019
The Washington Post headline above zeroes in on the truth: all we know is what the attorney general says. It could very well be that Barr is accurately summarizing the findings and placing them in full and proper context. (Although, as Ari Melber pointed out, the letter has a habit of quoting only partial sentences of The Mueller Report.) But we need to see the actual report. And people need to stop conflating Barr's letter with the report, as some Times reporters seem to be doing.
Mueller, in letter, says “most” of issues related to potential obstruction of justice were reported publicly. Information the public hasn’t learned of yet is part of what will be involved in efforts to get the report and its underlying material. https://t.co/O9wLyfiTyW- Maggie Haberman (@maggieNYT) March 25, 2019
Where is this Mueller Letter?
Elsewhere, the Times had an analysis from Peter Baker with the headline "A Cloud Over Trump’s Presidency Is Lifted." Here is the second paragraph:
There are still other clouds overhead and no one outside the Justice Department has actually read the report by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, which may yet disclose damning information if made public. But the end of the investigation without findings of collusion with Russia fortified the president for the battles to come, including his campaign for re-election.
I don't know what's in the actual report and it could be damning but it vindicates him is a strange tack. We seem to have settled into a binary framing where Trump either is charged or is completely exonerated, as if there are not acres of gray area where he could have done things that were dangerous or subverted the national interest but did not rise to the level of a direct conspiracy with the Russian government. (The political media, including Trump's critics, are responsible for this focus on a Transatlantic spy caper directly involving the president.) The vindication idea, while rooted in one objective premise-that Mueller did not file further charges-is also heavily based in the fact that Trump is saying it.
While critics will still argue about whether Mr. Trump tried to obstruct justice, the president quickly claimed vindication and Republican allies pounced on their Democratic colleagues for what they called an unrelenting partisan campaign against him.
It's not just "critics" who ought to argue about Trump possibly obstructing justice. Mueller apparently left the issue open in the report, presenting evidence which he did not decide whether, one way or the other, rose to an indictment level. Maybe after 22 months, he just wanted this all to be over, so he handed it over to the attorney general who's been there for a month to decide.
Or maybe he meant for this to go to Congress, where representatives of the American people could debate the nature of the president's actions. We also ought to see the evidence around, say, the Trump Tower meeting, or the Trump Tower Moscow deal, or campaign manager Paul Manafort sharing polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has been linked to Russian intelligence. We ought to see the evidence without any curation from William Barr. The solution is clear: we should see the full report.
Presumably, the president-who now is indeed claiming "exoneration"-would also be interested in releasing the report. It completely clears him! It's also entirely legitimate, even though it was produced by the same guy mentioned here:
..This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 1, 2018
This is one of approximately 3.4 million times Trump attacked the probe or, to a lesser extent, Robert Mueller specifically. The investigation was a Witch Hunt by 12 Angry Democrats until the day that it appeared Trump wouldn't be charged, at which point it was a very reputable probe indeed.
This was predictable: the president is entirely uninterested in the truth, only what is useful to him and he can get enough people to believe. Having for years assaulted the investigation as illegitimate and politically motivated, he will now crow for the next two years about how the same investigation absolves him of all sins. It will likely be a quantum situation: it was both a Witch Hunt and a legitimate exoneration. You know, because most Witch Hunts end with a prosecutor declining to press charges. The idea this was a legitimate investigation launched with sufficient probable cause which did not uncover sufficient evidence of a criminal offense to charge a sitting president doesn't have the same ring to it as EXONERATED.
The easiest way to prove the president right, of course, would be to release The Mueller Report-something the notorious consensus-builders in the House of Representatives voted unanimously, across party lines, 420-0 in favor of. What are the arguments against it?
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