So, as I'm sure you've all heard, Robert Mueller's report into whether Donald Trump's 2016 campaign engaged in criminal activity with Russia was released on Friday.
Well, to be more accurate, a four-page summary of Robert Mueller's report was released on Friday by Trump's hand-picked attorney general, William Barr.
America has been awaiting this moment anxiously for almost two years. So, while it seems like the report is the final culmination and explanation to all of America's questions since President Trump was elected in 2016, it isn't.
Not at all.
To be frank, it means nothing.
It might in the future. But in the current state that it's in, the report is absolutely meaningless. So, if you're still thinking the report holds any real, tangible significance, here's why you're thinking about the report wrong. And here's what it actually means.
First off, let's be clear, we don't have the Mueller Report. We have the Barr memo. We have a summary of a summary. In other words, there are essentially two different pieces of Mueller's investigation. One was the actual investigation details, evidence, procedures, etc., while the other is the summary of that investigation that Mueller sent out as his report to Barr. Barr then further summarized Mueller's Report, leading to a memo that is increasingly less detailed, nuanced, and truthful than the initial investigation. In fact, the American people have just four pages written up by Trump's handpicked Attorney General, selected just over a month ago, who has made it clear that he does not believe in indicting a sitting president.
What's the problem with that? Well, a lot.
I believe that we can trust some of what Barr has stated, but not all of it. The Attorney General is an intelligent person, he knows that he cannot flat-out lie in his memo in case the full report is ever released. However, he can adjust Mueller's words in a way that might reflect a slightly different story. Additionally, considering his memo is shorter than a college student's final essay, it isn't too extreme to consider that he might have omitted some information from the original report. With that possible bias in mind, let's take a look at the content of the memo. There were two main topics for consideration; collusion and obstruction of justice.
The investigation is stated to have found no evidence of collusion between Trump and his aides, and Russian intelligence. This is the truth in terms of what Mueller's Report was able to find. However, Barr's language is all wrong. And, when you're talking about legal matters, this is a big problem. And, when you're talking about an Attorney General, it also isn't a mistake. If you ever wondered why your teachers pressured you so much on specifics and grammar, this is why.
The first page of Barr's memo states that "the Special Counsel and his staff thoroughly investigated allegations that members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, and other associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election." Did you catch the problem with that wording? No? It's the word "conspired." Now, for reference, let's look at the initial appointment of the Special Counsel, though, under section (b), subsection i., it is stated that the Council is to investigate, "any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump."
Here is why those words matter so much.
Conspiracy is "a secret plan by a group to do something unlawful or harmful." It is only one way that someone might have "links and/or coordination." So, in that, while Trump and his aides might not have conspired, they could have still coordinated with, been linked to, and contacted the Russian government in regard to the 2016 presidential election. By selecting the narrowest possible definition of what it could mean to link and/or coordinate, Barr is giving himself, and Trump an easy way out. Especially because, to the average, non-legalese person, the exchange of terms doesn't raise any red flags. The Attorney General is being overly specific in his memo, which is a really easy, yet deceitful, way to get around telling the truth.
Imagine a high schooler asks his mom if he can go to a party. He knows that at this party, there will be no alcohol, but there will be drugs. His mom responds with, "you can go as long as there are no illegal substances there." The high schooler says, "don't worry, there won't be any alcohol." The son isn't lying, the party doesn't have alcohol, but he is being dishonest, there are illegal substances. The same goes for Barr. He isn't lying, but he might not be telling the whole truth.
There's more. Next, Barr's memo complicates our understanding of what evidence Mueller actually developed for or against Trump. Barr says that Mueller "did not find" that Trump "conspired or coordinated with Russia." But, Mueller's actual summary (which Barr quoted in his memo) stated the investigation "did not establish" that Trump "conspired or coordinated with the Russian government." Once again, this does matter. "Establish" in this case means that Mueller could not fully or confidently state that Trump colluded, whereas "did not find" makes it sound as though there was no evidence at all.
Let's explain a bit more.
First, let's recognize that Mueller's Report depicts his decisions and conclusions, not the evidence. So let's imagine that Mueller had 75% of the evidence he needed to say with accuracy that Trump had colluded with Russia. In his report, it would only be stated that Trump did not collude. And while that is technically true, with that much evidence it is likely that he did. However, of course, Mueller could not say Trump did collude without being 100% sure of the fact. This situation didn't necessarily happen, but it should clear up any confusions in regard to why the report and the memo might not be as truthful as we'd like them to be.
Secondly, when we fail to think about the investigation on a spectrum and focus instead on the "did he" or "did he not," we miss the fact that an investigation is never all in or all out. People are currently thinking about the report in zero-sum terms. They think that because the president was not indicted for collusion, there was absolutely no evidence of it. But, maybe there just wasn't enough evidence of it. We do live in a nation where people are innocent until proven guilty, and if Trump is found innocent, even with some evidence to the contrary, we have to respect that. But, there is a good amount of information that proves Mueller's investigation might have been faulty, making Trump's innocence a complete farce. Barr is an expert in legalese, do not take his turn of phrase lightly.
Barr is notorious for this turn of phrase. In 1992, he was President George W. Bush's, Attorney General. During that time period, Barr was nicknamed "Coverup-General Barr." Bush consistently used Barr to bury his wrongdoings such as Iraqgate and Iran-Contra, as did President Reagan. Barr has a reputation now. When a Republican president is in trouble, it is clear that the "coverup-general" is the one to call.
Barr was selected as Attorney General for this exact reason. Trump and his team knew that if any murkiness or unclarity was present in the Mueller Report, his Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General would be the first people to have their hands on it. They would also be the first people to filter it into the public eye. And for this, we have to recognize that two men who are loyal to Trump, and who do not believe in indicting a sitting president, were given total control over the decision of whether or not Trump did, or did not, obstruct justice. And no, this isn't a conspiracy theory, Trump has been nervously cycling through Attorney Generals for some time now. He was preparing for this exact moment when his selection would be the difference between his exoneration and his indictment.
The report was seemingly inconclusive on the topic of obstruction of justice. "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime," Barr wrote. "It also does not exonerate him." The question of obstruction was left to the Attorney General, Barr, and Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, as Mueller supposedly took no sharp stance on the issue. Therefore, Barr's exoneration of Trump is virtually meaningless. It is far from legally binding. In obstruction of justice cases, it truly is up to the House of Representatives if they conduct impeachment proceedings. Yet, Trump took the statement to mean a "complete and total exoneration," and stated such to the American people.
If Mueller couldn't make a definitive statement on obstruction after two years of investigations, how can Barr make a definitive statement after just a few days of having the report? There is clearly an element of political motivation.
This, along with Barr's memo, is incredibly misleading. There has been no exoneration. The House has the ability to do the exact opposite of what Barr recommends. This ability is extremely necessary for our checks and balances system. If Trump gets to pick his own judge, how can our system remain standing?
Therefore, the only person who can make Trump's fate is the Democratically controlled House.
Democrats, along with most American citizens, are demanding to see the full Mueller Report. Then, and only then, can they decide what our next steps are as a country. And, if Barr has correctly and honestly portrayed its contents in his memo, that really shouldn't be a problem. If Barr continues to refuse to release the report in its completion, Americans will know something in that report doesn't match something Barr wrote in his memo. Republican Mitch McConnell has already blocked this from happening. While this proposition passed the House, McConnell has now stopped this resolution from even coming to a vote in the Senate.
Barr has more recently agreed to release the report to Congress, with redactions. While the DOJ claims those redactions are in regard to national security, Democrats are calling for a full version to be released. And I don't disagree. With Barr leading them, we can't quite trust the DOJ not to redact some ~extra~ information. Additionally, it would be totally possible to allow the FBI or Congress to redact information that may be a security threat, and therefore avoid a conflict of interest.
The paradox is that if supposedly, Barr's memo exonerates Trump, then Mueller's Report must also exonerate Trump, and if Mueller's Report also exonerates Trump, then the Mueller investigation must, without a doubt, fully and completely exonerate Trump. But if there is hesitancy concerning releasing all of this, the only conclusion is that there is a weak link in the chain.
The media coverage of this whole ordeal has frankly been an embarrassment. We have not seen the Mueller Report, and it looks as though we might never. All we have right now is Barr's Memo, a four-page summary of a several-hundred-page report. The coverage of this story has been severely flawed in that much of the media has failed to clarify that we aren't able to access the full Mueller Report. Additionally, the focus on the fact that Trump wasn't indicted for collusion, and not on the fact the Mueller could not clear him for Obstruction of Justice is journalistic malpractice. For Americans that don't avidly follow politics, this unhealthy reporting is insanely misleading. They begin to believe that the contents of Barr's memo are the Mueller Report. They aren't. So let's clarify one. more. time. Yes, the Mueller Report was released. No, the information being reported on is not from the Mueller Report. It is from the Barr memo. The Barr memo is incredibly misleading. Don't trust the Barr memo.
That's the simplified version.
But, the media is still breaking a story that they don't seem to fully grasp. If our press can't present this story correctly, we essentially hand Trump the 2020 presidential election. Now, if the Mueller Report is ever released in all of its honest glory, and tells us something different, the American people are going to have an incredibly hard time switching belief systems.
Trump is the master at manipulating media coverage. And he's continuing that legacy. A large amount of the coverage of the report has been on Trump, giving him an even bigger platform to tell his followers what they should think. He wants Americans to think that he has been exonerated. And, from the failed media coverage, without a deep-dive into piles and piles of information, people will believe that Trump did nothing wrong. This pushes his campaign forward. This makes him look innocent. This makes on-the-fence voters jump down to the right. And, if it is ever revealed through a subpoena or other means, that Mueller's report really shouldn't have exonerated Trump, and that Barr misleads the public, it is easy for Trump and his allies to claim another "fake news" fiasco. The media said he was innocent, now if they say he's guilty, it makes the coverage look dishonest and untrustworthy.
This has gotten a bit complicated. So let's simplify.
Trump hasn't been cleared completely. Barr's memo is corrupt, misleading, and shouldn't be taken too seriously. But, even if Trump is "innocent" of the crimes investigated upon, he isn't an innocent nor ethical man. Scandals seem to rock the White House weekly, if not more often. No matter how you cut it, no matter how you roll it, no matter how you turn and twist it, Trump is not fit for the presidency, and he certainly isn't deserving of a clean legal bill. Do not forget that Trump Jr. attempted to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, do not forget that many of Trump's closest confidants and allies have been indicted and/or sent to prison, do not forget that Trump is still under investigation. The Southern District of New York is conducting a probe, the Trump Organization is under a lawsuit and Trump's tax returns are still being hunted down.
This new report does not exonerate Trump. Read that over and over and over again if you have to. Trump is not a legally free man because his hand-picked "cover-up general" wrote four, pages saying that he's innocent. The only thing that has been revealed by the Barr memo is that we are truly headed down a dark, dark path in which the president is becoming a dictator, government officials are not working for the American people, and the justice system completely collapses.
Until we have Mueller's full report, that isn't edited, Barr's memo should be considered nothing more than a piece of sinister propaganda.