Though special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited final report appears to show that President Donald Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russia to win the 2016 election, the findings — yet to be released in full — do not “lift a cloud” from his presidency.
Greg Sargent writes in The Washington Post that if anything, Mueller’s report makes the following three points all the more urgent to explore in full:
Donald Trump got elected president in part due to a massive foreign attack on our democracy.
Even if Trump’s campaign didn’t collude with that act in a criminally chargeable manner, he committed extraordinary abuses of power to try to prevent a full accounting of that attack on our democracy from taking place.
Trump’s attorney general is in the process of preventing a real public airing of the full dimensions of both of the above points.
In describing Mueller’s findings, Attorney General William Barr wrote to Congress that the report “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” in its attempt to subvert American democracy through cybertheft and disinformation campaigns.
But Sargent notes that without reading the report itself, Americans cannot know whether “Mueller documented collusion-like behavior that fell just short of criminality.”
On the matter of obstruction of justice, Mueller opted to refrain from stating a conclusion and instead left this up to Barr, who together with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined that Mueller’s evidence was “not sufficient to establish” obstruction.”
Mueller reportedly set out “evidence on both sides of the question” and said explicitly that his report “does not exonerate” Trump of criminality.
Barr’s conclusion is noteworthy for two reasons in particular: 1) Sargent notes that “during his confirmation hearings, Barr flatly conceded that certain types of conduct Trump has actually committed would constitute obstruction of justice”; and 2) Barr argued in an unsolicited memo last year that “Trump didn’t obstruct justice because interfering inherently cannot be obstruction when done by the head of the executive branch.”
Without the ability to read Mueller’s evidence “on both sides of the question,” it is impossible to know how Barr reached his conclusion, and if it was via the latter — that a president essentially cannot obstruct justice — then Barr has placed Trump above the law, Sargent writes.
Former Justice Department spokesman Matthew Miller told Sargent that nothing is keeping Barr from releasing the Mueller’s evidence, because it does not appear that the special counsel gathered the information by way of a grand jury.
“There’s never been any sign that Mueller used the grand jury for the obstruction inquiry,” Miller said. “The White House produced documents and witnesses voluntarily. If there’s no grand jury involvement, then Barr could release that portion of the report today.”
We know Trump has long opposed a full accounting of that Russian attack — not just because he denies collusion but also because he reportedly saw the very existence of that attack as undermining the greatness of his victory. Indeed, it’s been documented that this is why he did so little to secure the country against the next Russian attack.
Thus, what Barr’s letter really tells us is that, without the Mueller report, we are being denied a full reckoning into that subversion of our democracy and a full public airing of Trump’s efforts to prevent that reckoning from happening.