independent news and opnion

The Mueller Report Won’t End Trump’s Presidency, But It Sure Makes Him Look Bad

0 40


In the most memorable scene in the most anticipated government report in recent history, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, takes us inside the Oval Office on May 17, 2017. President Trump, having fired the F.B.I. director in an apparent effort to shut down the investigation of him and his 2016 campaign, was in the middle of interviewing candidates for the new vacancy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, much to the President’s fury, stepped out of the room to take a phone call. He returned with bad news: his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had appointed Mueller to be a special counsel and conduct an independent investigation. Russiagate would live on. Trump “slumped” over in his chair, according to the report. “Oh, my God, this is the end of my Presidency,” he said. “I’m fucked.”

For now, at least, it appears that he was wrong. The appointment of Mueller did not lead to the end of Trump’s Presidency. Not yet, and probably not ever. The release of the special counsel’s report, on Thursday, showed that Mueller did not turn up conclusive evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. But the report’s belated publication, almost four weeks to the day after Mueller submitted it to Attorney General William Barr, is hardly the “complete and total exoneration” that Trump initially claimed it was and that Barr misleadingly and incompletely portrayed to the country. We knew that wasn’t the case the minute Trump said it.

What we didn’t know until Thursday, when we finally saw the four-hundred-and-forty-eight-page document, is how much evidence Mueller had amassed about the President, panicked and in crisis mode, trying to shut down and block the investigation. The report documents ten different incidents that raise questions about the President’s behavior. Was it obstruction of justice? The Mueller report concluded (albeit in legalistic and unclear language) that that is a matter for Congress to decide. And Congress, as a matter of political calculation and senatorial math, remains unlikely to pursue the question to its bitter end.

“This is the end of my Presidency” seems as though it will go down as one of Trump’s most memorable quotes. The famously self-pitying President went on to complain, according to the report, “This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.” Trump’s press secretary at the time, Hope Hicks, saw him soon after. She testified to the special counsel that she had seen Trump that upset only once before: on October 7, 2016, when the “Access Hollywood” tape came out. The parallel is instructive. Even people in Trump’s inner circle believed the “Access Hollywood” tape, in which Trump is heard bragging about forcing himself on women, would spell the end of his White House hopes. Reince Priebus, who would go on to become Trump’s first White House chief of staff, told him that the race was over. But, of course, that is not how the story ended. Trump won on Election Day, though it was a messy victory and will always have an asterisk next to it: Trump is one of only a few Presidents in American history to win the Presidency via the Electoral College while losing the popular vote. The Mueller report appears to have arrived at a similar outcome. Trump has won in the sense that his Presidency is almost certainly not going to end because of the investigation. But there will always be an asterisk next to this, too: Was there obstruction or wasn’t there? What should we make of all the dozens and dozens of contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian representatives during 2016? There was evidence, but it did not “establish” that a crime took place, the special counsel has told us. So what did take place? In the absence of some definitive new investigation, the asterisk will remain.

So, too, will the portrait of the White House that Mueller and his team have produced, which is surely one of the most damning insider accounts ever written about a Presidency in modern times. What the report portrays, in numbing legalese and revealing footnotes, is a breathtaking culture of lying and impunity, distrust and double-dealing. Trump is its architect, its chief practitioner, and its greatest beneficiary. Of course, much has been said and written in the past two and a half years about the toxic nature of the Trump White House, about its epic levels of staff turnover and its vicious climate of suspicion and backstabbing. All that and more seem to be true, according to the account that emerges from the Mueller report, and there is a value to having this recorded for posterity. It is not just another best-selling book based on anonymous sources; it is based on sworn testimony and on contemporaneous notes, e-mails, and phone records that only a prosecutor could have had access to.

Many commentators were surprised and outraged that Attorney General Barr held on to the report for as long as he did. Soon after he received it, he released a four-page summary, which now seems more than a little discordant with the tone and substance of Mueller’s actual findings. On Thursday morning, he held a twenty-two-minute press conference at the Justice Department to weigh in, once again, with his own views of how exculpatory the report is for President Trump—all before letting anyone actually read it. In his press conference, Barr made a number of dubious and highly questionable claims, such as an assertion that the White House had fully coöperated with Mueller’s investigation and that Mueller had found “no evidence” of the Trump campaign conspiring with Russia. In fact, the report details the many ways in which Trump was not only refusing to coöperate with the investigation but was doing his best to shut it down. For instance, he tried to get the White House counsel to fire Mueller and repeatedly lied about doing it. The Mueller report also notes that the lack of a conclusion about whether there was a conspiracy between Trump and Russia “does not mean there was no evidence.” But, having now read the report, I am not surprised by how the Attorney General chose to characterize it; William Barr, it turns out, is a perfect representative of the Trump Administration.

We pretty much knew this was coming. On Wednesday evening, President Trump himself announced that Barr would give a press conference the next morning. Then came news from the Justice Department that Congress and the public would get the report only after the press conference. Then came a Times report that the Justice Department had, in fact, briefed White House lawyers about the Mueller findings before the release, aiding their preparations to rebut it. To say that Washington heads were exploding would be an understatement. Imagine Richard Nixon announcing that Leon Jaworski would be giving a press conference the next day to exonerate him, and you get some sense of how this late-breaking information was received. By 8 P.M., Representative Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the Democratic-controlled House, was telling reporters that the “Attorney General appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump, the very subject of the investigation at the heart of the Mueller report.” The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, tweeted, “AG Barr has thrown out his credibility and the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect @realdonaldtrump above all else.” And all this was before a single redacted page had hit the Internet.

Was the Trump Administration really risking such outrage over a report that offered the President “complete and total exoneration,” as the White House claimed it did? Why would Attorney General Barr handle the process of releasing the report in such a controversial way if his goal was to insure that it had as much credibility as possible in these divided, partisan times?

The answer was clear within the first few minutes of Barr’s press conference. In the course of the press conference, the Attorney General referenced “no collusion” or what he said was the report’s finding that there had been no conspiracy between Trump and Russia no fewer than nine times. Obstruction was barely mentioned, except in a largely unexplained comment that he did not fully agree with Mueller’s legal reasoning. The Attorney General acknowledged that he had allowed the White House counsel and Trump’s personal lawyers to read the report while keeping its contents secret from the public and Congress, but he never explained why he had submitted his own letter to Congress last month in place of the written summaries of the report that Mueller’s team had prepared in expectation of their release. Barr sounded like Trump’s lawyer, not his Attorney General. Chris Wallace, the chief political anchor on Fox News, said, on air, “He seemed almost to be acting the counsel for the defense.” Within minutes, Trump was tweeting victory. “Game over,” he wrote. “I’m having a good day,” he said in a brief public appearance a few minutes after that. “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.”

Then the report hit. We all started reading.

It should be said that reading the Mueller report is a tough slog, especially for an American without a party. It is hard to read partly because it shows the President ordering his subordinates to lie and to carry out dubious and unethical acts. In many cases, they did what he said. In some cases, they did not, and that, in its own way, is just as disturbing. There it is in black and white: a thorough and careful legal document showing high-ranking officials of the U.S. government refusing to obey orders from the President because they believed them to be improper or outright illegal. Perhaps the most revealing piece of the obstruction evidence from the report is that Trump called the White House counsel, Don McGahn, on a weekend in June, 2017, to order him to fire Mueller; McGahn refused to do so and prepared to quit instead, determined to avoid a Watergate-style Saturday Night Massacre. In defying Trump, McGahn may well have saved him. If the Mueller investigation does not turn out to be “the end of my Presidency,” as Trump predicted, it will not be because of the President but in spite of him.

The report found that the President of the United States was less credible than the F.B.I. director he fired, when their accounts of their interactions conflicted. It found that he was less credible than his own White House counsel, when their accounts conflicted. When reports first surfaced about the now infamous Trump Tower meeting in June, 2016, Trump was not only involved in trying to cover up what happened; he directed the coverup.

The President himself comes across as a mobster, often lamenting that his lawyers are not as good at representing him as was his early mentor Roy Cohn, an actual mob lawyer. It comes as no surprise that Trump lies about so many things, big and small, though it is still remarkable that he does so even in the midst of a high-stakes legal investigation. Concerning a dinner with the soon-to-be-fired F.B.I. director, James Comey, at which Trump asked for “loyalty,” the report said, Trump later lied even about the fact that he had invited Comey to dinner, claiming falsely, in public, that he thought the F.B.I. director had requested the meeting. The report goes to great lengths to disprove this one small example, among many, of Trump’s falsehoods, presenting evidence that includes “The President’s Daily Diary,” which records that Trump “extend[ed] a dinner invitation” to Comey on January 27,” and sworn testimony from Priebus.

Everyone in the White House, it seems, was writing down memos for the files. Trump was forcing his subordinates into awkward conversations that made them run for their lawyers. A phone call to the director of the National Security Agency, in which Trump complained about Comey and the investigation, was so bizarre that the N.S.A. chief immediately wrote a record of the conversation and put it in a safe. Trump lied to his staff. He yelled at them. He hid things from them. He not only lied to the press but actively enlisted others to do so, too. When he was secretly preparing to fire Comey, he confided the fact to Stephen Miller, the young loyalist who is supposed to be advising him on immigration policy, and ordered him not to tell the rest of the White House staff. (Even Miller apparently thought this was sneaky and wrong; he called Priebus that night to give him a heads-up that Trump was about to do something big with the “Comey situation.”) The lying was so endemic that even when Sarah Sanders was caught cold by the special counsel’s office, she blithely dismissed her blatant falsehoods. She told the special counsel that it was a mere “slip of the tongue” to claim, based on no evidence, that “countless members of the F.B.I.” wanted Jim Comey fired because the F.B.I. director had lost the confidence of the agency. This, Sanders said, was merely rhetoric, spoken “in the heat of the moment.” Remember all those times that Sanders and the President’s many defenders on Capitol Hill said that he was never even considering firing Mueller? Yeah, that wasn’t true either.

After reading the report, it was hard to recall the world of utter vindication and Presidential victimization that Attorney General Barr had painted earlier in the day. But damning is not the same as definitive. The details have piled up, but it’s also fair to say that I don’t know anything more than I did Thursday morning about why Donald Trump has such a strange affection for Vladimir Putin, or what to make of the Trump campaign’s apparent advance knowledge of the hacked e-mails that Russia released into the toxic morass of the 2016 campaign.

Nor, sadly though predictably, has any of this addressed the bitter partisan divide in American politics, which now seems all but irreversible. As some journalists were sputtering in outrage on Twitter about the behavior documented in the report, Kellyanne Conway, the counsellor to the President, was on the White House driveway picking up the spinning where Barr and the President’s lawyers left off. Being cleared of charges, she said, guarantees the President’s reëlection in 2020. The day had turned into a predictable Rorschach test of partisan and tribal loyalties. In Trumpworld, vindication meant his guaranteed reëlection; to the President’s critics, the report was damning, devastating, an impeachment referral, a congressional call to arms.

Instead of clarity, Washington quickly settled into second-guessing everyone about everything. Mueller was blasted by legal analysts for failing to issue subpoenas and compel testimony from Trump and Trump’s kids. Barr was blasted for his misleading press conference and public statements. Trump and his advisers were called out by seemingly every reporter whose story was ever incorrectly labelled “fake news” by the President. Democrats were second-guessing other Democrats who didn’t think they should pursue impeachment. Republicans were second-guessing those who predicted Mueller would produce evidence of a massive conspiracy and coverup. “TOLD YA!!!” Trump’s son Don, Jr., tweeted. In its cryptic triumphalism, his tweet seemed to sum up the state of the spin cycle perfectly. Everybody would claim to have been right, while insisting that everybody else was wrong.



Source link

You might also like

Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

close
Thanks !

Thanks for sharing this, you are awesome !