A few weeks ago, President Trump’s attorney general offered his initial spin on the Mueller report. William Barr claimed that the special counsel’s probe cleared Donald Trump of collusion with Russia, and made no determination on whether the president obstructed justice. The president and his allies were now free to crow about his “total exoneration.”
That Barr did not want the public or Congress to see the Mueller report was an obvious sign that the AG was hiding the full truth.
Now we know why Barr has been shilling since he arrived. At least we know some of why, because a redacted version of the Mueller report is now available.
It is damning for the President.
How damning? Consider Trump’s initial reaction when he learned a special counsel would be investigating him: “Oh my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m "I'm f***ed."
Or consider this Mueller conclusion: “The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."
Or this: “President Trump ... engaged in efforts to curtail the special counsel's investigation and the disclosure of evidence to it, including through public and private contacts with potential witnesses.”
Do these sound like the words and actions of an innocent man? A man with nothing to hide and nothing to fear?
In fact, Mueller found that Trump made consistent and often public efforts to steer the probe, going so far as encouraging witnesses not to cooperate. Mueller detailed 10 separate instances of potential obstruction.
It was Barr who decided that none of these actions amounted to a crime, which is in keeping with the role he has assumed in this administration. Barr is not an impartial arbiter of justice. He is Trump’s personal fixer. He has more in common at this point with Michael Cohen — a felon convicted of making hush money payments to women on the president’s orders — than his predecessors.
There’s plenty that Barr decided to redact from the full report, which means we don’t know everything we should know about Russia’s effort to subvert the 2016 election, or the president’s actions. But Barr’s public efforts to shape the narrative around the Mueller report — including today’s preposterously partisan news conference — are all happening in plain view.
The president’s fitness for office is also in plain view. He lies, incites division and violence, pays off porn stars, oversees a cabinet of startling ineptitude and corruption, coddles corporations and cages kids. We know all this without the 448-page report.
In a functioning democracy, Mueller’s report would be enough cause to rid the body politic of this malignant presidency. He would be held accountable, like any other elected official.
The goal [of news coverage] should be clarity about the president's action, not the rancorous churn of politics.
But we live in a democracy shaped by profit and partisanship and spectacle, not public morality. The Mueller report will, I fear, become just another spectacle; another source of division to be exploited by a cynical president, in cooperation with a profit-seeking media. After all, it was our free press that publicized the most damning of the emails hacked by Russian agents back in 2016. Editors didn't question whether it was appropriate to write stories based on materials provided by a foreign adversary.
Mainstream media outlets will no doubt provide a day or two of in-depth coverage of the Mueller report. But this coverage will likely reduce the report to a partisan squabble, pitting dour Democrats against ranting Republicans.
My advice would be to stick with outlets that provide some historical context and in-depth analysis, and avoid the cable news shout fests, as well as those news organizations that amplify Trump’s calculated misinformation, or traffic in passive reporting and lazy false equivalencies.
The goal should be clarity about the president's action, not the rancorous churn of politics.
House Democrats probably won’t choose to open a formal impeachment inquiry, because they know the process is doomed in the Senate, where two-thirds of senators would need to vote to convict. Democrats also rightly fear that seeking to hold the president accountable will amplify the sense of victimization that Trump and his media propagandists use to whip up the GOP base.
Lots of folks once hoped the Mueller probe would “answer all the questions.” I’ve come around to the view that there’s only one question that matters at this point: whether enough Americans are fed up with this president, and ready to repudiate his deceits and demagoguery. That’s a matter of action not anguish, of faith not fact.