Terry H. Schwadron
So, we’re setting up for Mueller Report, Take 2, with Atty. Gen. William P. Barr making a new promise to deliver 400 pages of the Special Counsel report, with legal redactions, in mid-April — just to align in with tax deadlines.
Even Barr has come to the realization that his initial statements of summary of topline prosecution decisions would not suffice as explanation. Barr is offering to testify in public about his reading and decisions about not prosecuting obstruction of justice.
While I’m sure many of us want finally to read the details of the report rather than any summary of top-line prosecutorial results, my hope is that the report’s availability will disperse some of the disquiet I feel among those I talk with daily. The combined effects of the lack of information so far and the insistence of President Trump to cherry-pick the words that work best for boasting has created a strange, but discernible funk about being had by the very government officials whose behavior had initiated reason for an inquiry altogether.
There is still some important skirmishing to go on between Democratic House Judiciary Chair Jerrold Nadler and Barr — Nadler still wants the full, uncut report by this week — but at the least we now have a sense that the Mueller Report reflects significant analysis of voluminous evidence.
And while Barr’s letter to Nadler and Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, promising the report was pretty promising from a transparency viewpoint, there was a weird sentence that said there was a need to protect the reputation and privacy of “peripheral” characters in the story, immediately triggering concern that Barr might be protecting Trump family members and close associates.
A total of 400 pages of analysis, plus hundreds more pages of charts, communications and evidentiary material, amounts to a pretty hefty analysis of events that go well beyond Trump declarations that the report offered only “total exoneration.”
Barr also said that while the president would have the right to declare certain portions as exempt from review under “executive privilege” declarations, Barr asserted that Trump’s public remarks have left any such decision to him. As a result, Barr said there will be no prior White House review.
What the president has been doing this week is to misuse the top-line results. What Barr’s previous announcement said was that Mueller judged that the balance of what was discovered during the investigation fell short of a prosecution — especially of a sitting president. But that’s not what the president repeats, instead claiming the announcement had been a total exoneration, which it wasn’t.
Indeed, Trump and congressional colleagues jumped to attack the legitimacy of the investigation itself, and of anyone, including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Ca, head of the House Intelligence Committee, who did not want to accept “total exoneration.” The only good to have come from all of this has been to grant Schiff a platform for a needed, full-throated airing of the unaddressed acts of the report.
None of the current ill will was necessary.
Trump could have declared his victory and moved on, in full recognition that there are at least 16 other substantial law enforcement probes that he and his presidency, his business, his family will be facing from other state and federal prosecutors.
Trump could have acknowledged that while he was grateful for the ruling that there would be no prosecution, he would be more helpful to others besides himself if he, for example, acknowledged that the same report pinned the underlying election on Russian interference.
Instead, Trump repeatedly denounces the “Russian hoax” and attacks any other legal challenges being lowered at him and his business organization.
Indeed, as we look ahead, we should keep these questions in mind:
· What have we done or what will we do to make U.S. elections resistant to future foreign interference?
· How do we explain all the contacts between Trump associates and Russian intelligence officials without using the word collusion, conspiracy or co-operation. Is it Trump’s argument that his people were too simple, too foolish to be running a presidential campaign that did not recognize Russian interference? Why did all those Trump associates lie to Congress if there was nothing to lie about?
· Where is the line for Trump between an assertive defense of his presidency and “obstruction of justice”?
The length of the Mueller report is arbitrary, of course, but until yesterday, we learned that even Barr understands that soft-soaping the results simply will not wash.