The Mueller Report: What Now?
Attorney General William Barr has the Robert Mueller report and has submitted his summary. Now what?
First, some conclusions. The key one is obvious: In spite of Russian efforts to subvert the 2016 election, no one in or associated with the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia. But the report went further — it concluded that Russia offered help to the Trump campaign numerous times, but was refused each and every time. Game, set, match.
Second is the sheer scope of Mueller’s investigation. We suspected it was widespread, but there were 500 search warrants, 2,800 subpoenas, 19 lawyers, and nearly 500 witnesses, costing somewhere around $30 million over two years. Really?
Critics may quibble with details, but no one can question Mueller’s thoroughness. And Trump did nothing to interfere with anything Mueller was doing despite the Democrat continual narrative that Trump was ready to fire Mueller.
I fault Mueller on his non-conclusion on obstruction. He summoned his inner James Comey by laying out the pros and cons à la the Hillary Clinton probe but refusing to prosecute. Comey cleared Hillary, but Mueller simply raised questions and then punted to the attorney general. His job was to prosecute or not prosecute — not kick the can down the road.
Perhaps it was Mueller’s effort to provide an avenue for continued investigations if Congress wanted to take the bait, or maybe ensure his DC cocktail-party invites. Either way, this was the coward’s way out. The AG needed only a day or two to conclude that there was no obstruction, in part because while Trump may have been ham-handed in his public comments on Mueller, the main accusation that he fired Comey was within his constitutional purview.
Finally, it was made clear that the reason for not bringing any charges against Trump was not because of the view that a sitting president cannot be indicted; it was simply that there wasn’t evidence to justify it. Good news for the rule of law, and a good day for the country.
I have said for months that full disclosure of everything (memos, FISA applications, transcripts, etc.) would be ideal. Stop the spin, innuendo, and intermediary interpretations, and let the public see it all. Ditto regarding the Mueller report. Unfortunately, that would be illegal. There are clearly things in the report that are protected by law (grand-jury proceedings, names of individuals who were involved but not indicted, etc.) and maybe even some classified material that would compromise national security. Still, Barr should err on the side of disclosing as much as possible without breaching those protocols.
Sadly, Barr’s vigilance will give Democrats fodder for asserting the need for more investigations to uncover what by law cannot be disclosed.
So where do we go from here? The initial responses from Democrats and the media are almost laughable in their zeal to move the goal posts and keep hope alive that Trump must go. They are simply too invested in their narratives to do otherwise, so this is not over by a long shot. Here’s a random sample:
Rep. Adam Schiff says that even though there may not be enough evidence to indict on collusion, there may be nuggets in the report that show influence by a foreign power over Trump, and only seeing the entire report can resolve that. He and others are calling for releasing it all regardless of legal restrictions, which is a setup for a never-ending series of congressional investigations looking for conspiracies that might be buried in the redacted information.
The same goes for the obstruction issue. They claim that part of the judgment on whether to charge has to do with “intent.” And since Trump was never interviewed, how could the AG determine intent? Therefore, we have a cover-up that needs to be reviewed — and we all know that Barr was appointed because of his views in this area. Let the subpoenas begin.
They need to know what Barr’s thinking was, and that’s OK to a degree. Let them probe the “witch hunt” comments (which turned out to be true), the “dangling pardons” remarks (Trump simply refused to rule them out; he never offered a quid pro quo), and the Comey firing (asked and answered).
The only specific accusation that Democrats and media raised to the level of the Watergate tapes — namely, that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie to Congress — was so outrageous that it prompted Mueller to issue a highly unusual public denial. The debate seems to be over the use of the words “complete exoneration.” With Mueller and the AG, you get exactly that, even though Mueller punted on the obstruction issue.
But it seems bizarre that one can obstruct something that was never a crime in the first place, and it’s equally bizarre that this would form the basis for a continuing congressional probe.
The media won’t change either. Among the ludicrous explanations of how they got it so wrong were these doozies from this morning:
According to MSNBC, the Mueller report was never the gold standard; it was just a placeholder while everyone waited for the Southern District of New York to pick up the mantle. Forget collusion and obstruction — what really mattered was supposed bank and insurance fraud from 1986.
They piled on the Democrats comments that Mueller was too constrained by his mandate to just investigate those pesky real crimes. What is really needed is to delve into abuses of power and corruption — you know, those other high crimes and misdemeanors.
There was also the pathetic attempt to use the 30-something Mueller indictments as proof that Trump and his campaign were crooked. Forget that the grand total of zero of those charges were related to Russian collusion. The TV body language was almost sad. It looked like a funeral.
The New York Times cited yet again the eye-rolling accusation of Trump’s sarcastic encouragement of Russia to look for Hillary’s missing emails as proof of collusion, And Beto O'Rourke opined that there was 100% certain evidence that Trump “intended to” collude with Russia. The Times went on to blast Trump for having the horrible judgment to hire people who ended up lying to the feds, as if less-than-best HR practices were grounds for impeachment.
And finally, left dangling is the innuendo that Putin did everything he could to get his puppet Trump elected over the uber-tough Hillary, which ignores Trump’s actual treatment of Russia as president (Ukraine, oil prices, Syria, Venezuela) and fails to mention Hillary’s history with Russian contacts.
The Trump-is-a-crook narrative is fundamental to the business models of the mainstream media. Apologizing and moving into fair and balanced territory is simply not in the cards. The financial risk of alienating the hardcore viewer base that still longs for Trump in pin stripes is far too great. The efforts will now be shifted to rewriting history, moving the goal posts, and hoping no one notices.
The political reaction is a bit more complicated. The base of the Democrat Party is still demanding action on Trump, including continuing investigations. The Democrats in charge of the relevant committees owe their fame and airtime to being the standard bearers for ongoing conspiracy theories and keeping the narrative alive.
They will not pull punches in spite of the wise men (and woman) in the Democrat old guard who see the risk in overplaying the investigation and/or impeachment hand and trying to spin Mueller from the gold standard to irrelevancy. It may make for good copy and a permanently aroused shrinking base, but far less so for the rank and file and swing districts that were thoughtfully waiting for what they were told to trust — the Mueller report.
If this is what the Democrats are trying to build their 2020 campaign around, it could be a recipe for Trump getting 350 electoral votes.
The GOP political response is also complicated. The temptation, including mine, is to get everything out and shine the full light of day on everyone involved — yes, including the FBI, the Justice Department, key Barack Obama allies, national-security officials, and Obama himself. But all aspects of that are in jump-ball territory. The FBI and DOJ have been claiming there was enough smoke between Trump officials and Russia to justify a full counterintelligence exercise. They may have been negligent in sufficiently vetting things like the dossier that was a key component, but that deserves an inspector general (IG) rebuke and perhaps dismissals, not prison time for a coup.
Proving that will inevitably be a “he said, she said” judgement call, regardless of the underlying evidence of anti-Trump bias.
My suggestion would be to let the upcoming IG report show the bias and non-professional activity by the FBI, DOJ, and national-security personnel; bring to light the FISA process so this never happens again; take appropriate disciplinary action; shame the former Obama lackeys; and call it a day. Pushing further will inevitably drag Obama into the investigation, since he obviously knew what was going on (he may have even authorized it), which will be the ultimate “he said, she said” and politically explosive.
If you thought Trump was a racist because his father limited black access to New York housing projects in the 1970s, wait until Democrats and the media get ahold of a Trump attempt to smear the first black president. The backlash might be satisfying, but politically counterproductive.
Ditto for relitigating the Hillary email scandal. Regardless of how obviously guilty she was, any effort to go after her will also drag Obama into it. At a minimum, he was fully aware that she was using an unsecure server to transmit classified information since he was on the receiving end of it, and that’s an accomplice to a crime, whether “intended” or not. I would like nothing better than to get to the bottom of all things Hillary, but politically, the GOP is better served by simply shaming Hillary and relegating her to backbench status in the world of politics rather than reopening a case that by definition will lead back to Obama.
Let Democrats try to thread the needle between playing to their base with more meritless Trump investigations and alienating their majority. Thanks to Mueller, Trump investigations are just the next wedge between those two Democrat groups — the equivalent of the Green New Deal versus rational proposals that address real issues for swing voters.
Let the IG be the poster child for institutional abuses, sanction those involved, shine the light on processes like FISA to prevent anything like this from happening again, let Hillary and Obama stay in the shadows with an implied mutually assured destruction threat, stress conservative issues and Trump accomplishments, and win where it matters — controlling Congress and the White House.