During a summer barbeque, a friend came by the table where a group of us were discussing politics.
She bent down to show me the pin she was wearing with a picture of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by the president. The image of Mueller was tiny, but unmistakable, with his square jaw and somber face, looking steely. Everything we’d heard about the man led us to believe we could trust him.
As the expected release of the report neared, I began to worry. And when Attorney General William Barr rolled out his four-page description of the report on March 24, I was bummed. Barr concluded that there wasn’t “collusion” and that not enough evidence was found to prove obstruction of justice. We know Barr was picked to be the Attorney General because he made it clear in a memo he wrote to the Department of Justice that he would defend the president. Isn’t the Attorney General supposed to uphold the law?
Barr’s conclusions didn’t fit with anything I’d read or heard about the investigation from reporters, pundits and political leaders that I trust. So, when the redacted report was finally released, I started wading through it — and still am. By reading it and following the news, I’ve concluded that the report is extremely incriminating.
Mueller looked into two major areas and addressed them in two volumes. First, Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and what part the Trump campaign may or may not have played in that interference.
Second, whether or not the president had obstructed justice during the investigation of the Russia inquiry.
Mueller makes clear in Volume l that he was looking for proof of a what is called a “criminal conspiracy” with Russia, not collusion. As a prosecutor, Mueller looks at issues through a narrow legal lens. To prove a criminal conspiracy, you have to find solid evidence that the two sides explicitly agreed to work together. Mueller didn’t find that kind of evidence, but his report shows many examples of how Trump and his surrogates “welcomed” overtures from Russian operatives. Plus, we all saw Trump publicly ask Russia to seek evidence against the Democratic nominee. That’s unacceptable behavior for a candidate, let alone a president.
When Michael Cohen, Trump’s lawyer and fixer decided to speak truthfully to Congress, he explained that Trump speaks in code. When associating with him, you come to understand what he wants without him saying it outright.
In Volume ll Mueller tackled the question of obstruction of justice. The report lists numerous instances of Trump attempting to obstruct justice. But most importantly, the report says, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
So, it’s not over.
It was satisfying to hear the news that Mueller had written a letter to the Attorney General expressing dissatisfaction with how he had characterized the report. He wrote that Barr’s letter “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions,” and “there is now public confusion over critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”
When Barr later testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, he claimed he didn’t know Mueller was unhappy with how he handled the report’s roll out. He lied.
Meanwhile, the president recently spent an hour chatting happily over the phone with Russian President Vladimir Putin and claimed they didn’t discuss the subject of Russian interference in our election.
Here we go again!