So, Mueller has submitted his report, and a lot of people are saying a lot of false things about it. So let me set them straight.
Trump is claiming that the report completely exonerates him. This despite the fact that the report explicitly says that it does not exonerate him of obstruction of justice (and the fact that he has been claiming from the beginning that Mueller is on a partisan witch hunt). And a lot of people in the media have been accepting this narrative as well, saying that the report is “good news” for Trump, that it “clears him of collusion,” and so on.
First, on the collusion/conspiracy/coordination aspect: Barr quotes Mueller as saying that the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Note that “did not establish” is not the same as “found that it is not the case.” Absence of evidence is generally not evidence of absence.
Maybe Mueller’s investigation produced evidence that there was no coordination. But maybe not. We don’t know.
Second, on the question of obstruction, Mueller generates a list of considerations on both sides, but reaches no conclusion. He explicitly says the investigation didn’t exonerate Trump.
Barr says he and Rosenstein decided that the case wasn’t strong enough to charge Trump with obstruction.
There’s a host of worries here, not least of which is the fact that Barr was appointed by Trump specifically because he believes that presidents can obstruct a lot of justice without being guilty of a crime.
And Rosenstein isn’t in much better of a situation. If Trump obstructed justice by firing Comey the way he did (“This Russia thing . . . is a made up story”), then Rosenstein helped him obstruct by drafting a letter that served as the pretense for the firing.
So these are hardly neutral arbiters, and we should take their judgement that there was no obstruction worth charging with a huge grain of salt.
That said, there are a lot of lefties being wrong about the report also. The claim that Barr couldn’t responsibly summarize a 400 page report in a couple days, for example, is just off base.
I’ve gone through enough dissertations of that size to know that you can get to the meat of a report without reading every word. Mueller surely included summaries and conclusions, and this is presumably what Barr is reporting on, without getting into (or even reading) all the details.
Indeed, Barr explicitly says he’s offering a summary of the report’s “principle conclusions.” He doesn’t claim to be summarizing the report in its entirety.
Also, a lot of Trump critics are still hopeful that the report will offer a lot of new information that will be damaging to Trump, and they think the size of the report shows that there’s got to be a lot there that’s damning.
But I don’t think you can read that off of the size at all. And I suspect the vast majority of the report will be things we already know.
I’ve mentioned before that Mueller has already given us hundreds of pages of information about the results of his investigation in his indictments and court filings. The fact that Mueller isn’t going to be filing more indictments likely means that he doesn’t have much more to tell us.
His report is sure to have huge sections on the Russian hackers, on Manafort, on Gates, on Cohen, and so on. Almost all of that is going to be stuff that has already been reported.
And huge chunks of the obstruction section are likely to be devoted to tweets and TV interviews which, as Barr says, “took place in public view.” We know what Trump did for the most part. The question is whether asking the FBI director for personal loyalty and to drop an investigation, and firing him when he doesn’t acquiesce, berating his attorney general for recusing himself, threatening witnesses and their families on twitter, and so on constitutes obstruction.
It would look a lot like obstruction if it were done in secret. But Trump has no shame, and has been doing it right out in the open. Does that mean his intent wasn’t corrupt? Or does it just mean he doesn’t bother to hide his corruption?
One thing it does mean is that the pages detailing all of this aren’t likely to contain many surprises.