Anyone holding out hope that the completion of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election would somehow also bring an end to one of the most divisive, fraught times in American history are likely finding themselves quite disappointed today.
Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General Robert Barr on Friday. Barr spent the weekend reviewing it, then sent a four-page letter to congressional leaders outlining what he saw as Mueller’s principal conclusions.
We already have some answers. Several things became clear early in the course of Mueller’s two-year investigation. The Russians did indeed try to influence the 2016 presidential election. Twenty-five Russian nationals were accused of hacking into Democratic email accounts or orchestrating social media campaigns riddled with misinformation and outright lies (lies that many Americans seemed much too willing to take at face value).
And several political operatives close to President Donald Trump have admitted to, been indicted on, or been convicted of obstruction of justice. That list includes former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, former campaign adviser Roger Stone and former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. In all, the number of indictments — almost three dozen — rivaled the total from the Watergate investigation, which toppled a presidency a generation ago.
Left unresolved, of course, is the one question everyone wants answered: What role, if any, did Trump play in the Russian efforts to skew the election in his favor? And did he participate in any efforts to cover up that participation?
Barr, appointed by Trump earlier this year, says Trump is clear on both counts. Right now, we have to take his word for it.
In his letter to Congress, Barr says Mueller found no evidence that Trump conspired with foreign agents. As he wrote, “the special counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
And as for Trump’s involvement in any efforts to hamper Mueller’s investigation, Barr said there was no evidence pointing toward an indictment, again quoting the special counsel: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
What does that mean? How did Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein come to their own conclusion that the president committed no crime?
However we feel about the outcome, it is clear we cannot rely on Barr’s selective quoting of the report. The entire document needs to be made public, and as soon as possible.
Trump himself said as much Wednesday, telling reporters to “let it come out, let people see it.” He followed that Sunday with a claim that Mueller’s findings were a “complete and total exoneration.”
If that’s the case, the president should have no problem with the release of the report.
There is historical precedent for full transparency. The Warren Commission report on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was released to the public three days after it was delivered to Lyndon Baines Johnson. Even if people didn’t uniformly accept its findings, at least those findings and how they were developed were out there for everyone to see.
Amid the political maelstrom, it is vital to remember that at the heart of this is an investigation of Russian tampering in a U.S. election. Even if Trump was only the beneficiary of the plot, and not an actor in it, everything Mueller and his team of investigators learned about what happened is of great public interest.