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Two Truths (And One Lie) About The Mueller Report

Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks past the White House after attending services at St. John's Episcopal Church, in Washington, Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Cliff Owen/AP)
Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks past the White House after attending services at St. John's Episcopal Church, in Washington, Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Cliff Owen/AP)

On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent his long-awaited report to the Department of Justice. On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr offered Congress a rather indeterminate four-page summary, that included this quote from Mueller: “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Naturally, Trump is claiming just the opposite: that Barr’s summary exonerates him of any wrongdoing.

The truth is, we don’t know what Mueller’s full report says, because it hasn’t been made public. Should it be, it will almost certainly shed new light on the relationship between Trump and Russia (his campaign and otherwise), as well as the president’s efforts to cover up that relationship.

President Trump speaks with the media after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Sunday, March 24. (Alex Brandon/AP)
President Trump speaks with the media after stepping off Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Sunday, March 24. (Alex Brandon/AP)

As citizens, and taxpayers, we funded the report. Given the gravity of its mission — to investigate the question of whether the president of the United States worked with a chief foreign adversary to subvert our democracy — we deserve to know Mueller’s full conclusion, and to understand how he got there. We must insist that the full report and the underlying documents be made available. Congressional Republicans — who were for transparency before they were against it — seem likely to oppose this, and so the next few weeks will be dominated by a battle over how much of the report to we (the people) get to see.

Before you get lost in that partisan squabble, it’s important to step back and recognize two fundamental truths (and one lie) about the Mueller report.

Let’s start with the truths.

The first is that we already know a great deal about the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia:

*Russia engaged in an elaborate campaign to help Trump get elected.

*There were 102 direct contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russians during the campaign. Campaign officials routinely denied these contacts, and lied to the FBI and to Congress about them.

*In June 2016, Donald Trump Jr. responded to an email from a Russian national for dirt on Hillary Clinton with the following message: “If it’s what you say I love it, especially later in summer.” Trump Jr., campaign manager Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner later met with Russians at Trump Tower.

*On July 27, 2016, candidate Trump asked Russian hackers, on live TV, to infiltrate his Clinton’s emails. Russians agents attempted to do so that same day.

*On Oct. 7, 2016 just hours after an audiotape of Trump was released in which he boasted about sexually assaulting women, Wikileaks released a trove of DNC emails hacked by Russians, in an effort to smear Clinton.

*Though Trump denied having any deals in Russia while he was a presidential candidate, he was, in fact, negotiating a deal to build a huge skyscraper in Moscow during the campaign.

Whatever you make of them, these are established facts.

It is worth considering how the president or his fellow Republicans would respond if the same set of facts had emerged about Hillary Clinton, or Barack Obama, or any other Democratic presidential candidate.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y, speaks during a news conference in an Upper West Side neighborhood of New York Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Craig Ruttle/AP)
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y, speaks during a news conference in an Upper West Side neighborhood of New York Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

The second truth is that Mueller’s investigative mandate was quite narrow: to determine whether Trump or his campaign colluded with Russia, or obstructed justice.

One prevailing theory, among critics of this president as well as various law enforcement officials, is that Trump is a white-collar criminal who has spent his entire professional life flouting the rule of law. Now that he is president, that history is catching up with him.

As a result, regardless of what the Mueller's report concludes, there are a dozen probes that could result in the president, and/or his family members, being indicted.

The president is already an unnamed co-conspirator in the criminal indictment filed against his longtime attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, who faces three years in prison. If he were not the president, some legal scholars argue Trump himself would have been indicted for the same felonies, which involved the orchestration of hush money payments to two women with whom Trump allegedly had affairs.

The president faces a raft of other investigations, many of them arising from alleged crimes uncovered by Mueller and farmed out to other prosecutors, such as the Southern District of New York.

Trump has, in the words of the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan, “defined deviancy down.”

These alleged crimes range from bank and insurance fraud to perjury to obstruction of justice. Trump’s charity is also under investigation by the New York attorney general’s office. And prosecutors from three different federal offices are investigating his inaugural committee. This is in addition to probes by various congressional committees, which have raised issues about the White House process of granting security clearances and are seeking to obtain Trump’s tax returns.

This brings us to the Big Lie when it comes to the Mueller report. The president’s initial defense against Mueller — that the entire special counsel investigation is a witch hunt — has convinced his base that Mueller can’t be trusted.

But now Trump is changing his tune. He is now framing the report as a vindication that he did not collude with Russia and, by extension, that he has done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, more than half a dozen of Trump’s men — including his campaign manager, his deputy campaign manager and his national security adviser — are going to prison for their crimes. At least one of them (Cohen) has made it clear that he committed crimes at the direction of the president.

Whatever Mueller’s full report does or does not say, it pales before the larger reality, which is that Trump has, in the words of the late Sen. Patrick Moynihan, “defined deviancy down.”

He has done so in the most public of ways. He lies continually (he’s up to 9,179 false or misleading claims according to The Washington Post). He smears judges and war heroes and grieving widows. He seeks to profit from his office. He kisses up to foreign dictators. He spouts conspiracy theories and ignores his own intelligence briefings.

This president will continue to assault our sense of decency, so long as he has the craven support of the Republican party. Nothing we learn in the Mueller report will change that.

Related:

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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