Both the New York Times and the Washington Post are reporting that some of the people in the Special Counsels’ office are upset because they believe that William Barr’s non-summary summary was not nearly reflective of how damaging the report actually is for the President and, according to one official, “failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry”. According to those reports, Mueller’s team wrote multiple summaries about the areas of their investigation that were specifically designed to be quickly released to the public. Said one official, the summaries were written “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly…It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself”.
These officials made clear that the investigation into obstruction of justice specifically contained details that the Post described as “alarming and significant”. This seems to confirm the belief that the reason Mueller made no determination on the question of obstruction was because he intended to pass this information on to Congress to be dealt with since DOJ policy did not allow him to indict the President. Barr then took it upon himself to impose his own unique legal theory that there can be no obstruction without an underlying crime. It would also be reasonable to surmise that the Mueller report also contains substantial evidence of a conspiracy but not enough to result in an indictment. Whether Trump’s obstruction and dangling of pardons hindered the ability to reach an indictment on conspiracy is also a huge unanswered question that the full Mueller report might answer. Lastly, the existence of these summaries that were designed for release to the public begs the question of why Barr was unable or unwilling to even quote a complete sentence from the report in his non-summary summary.
Hat tip to @julianzelizer who notes how much what is happening with the Mueller report echoes what went on in the 2000 election. Republicans declare victory before all the details are known. In 2000, Bush was declared the winner before all the votes were counted. Today, Trump claims he is exonerated before only the most minimal amount of the Mueller report has actually been released and what has been released directly contradicts that assertion. The media then parrots the GOP line and it dominates the media narrative. That was true in 2000 and was again true in the immediate aftermath of the Barr memo.
When information emerges that calls the initial determination into question, Republicans double down in declaring victory and claim the Democrats are simply sore losers determined to overturn a legitimate result in a quest for power. In 2000, Bush advisers depicted Gore and his supporters as sore losers before the recount had even begun. The other day Sarah Sanders declared, “I think it just shows again what sore losers the Democrats really are. They got beat in 2016 because we had a better candidate with a better message and a better vision for America. Now we’re seeing that they’ve gotten beat again when it comes to the Mueller report”. Last night, Rudy Giuliani described the members of the Mueller team who expressed their disgust at Barr’s mischaracterization of their work as “a bunch of sneaky, unethical leakers. And they are rabid Democrats who hate the president of United States”.
And Republicans only win by making sure the process never finishes so that their original declaration of victory stands. In 2000, the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore decision effectively ended the recount before it was finished. Today, the question remains whether we will see the entire Mueller report of only the parts of the report that the Trump administration wants us to. And Trump, having trumpeted his “exoneration” for well over a week, is already decrying Democratic attempts to see the full Mueller report as a “disgrace”.
Jamelle Bouie likens the Mueller investigation to Iran-Contra. There, illegal arms sales to Iran to illegally fund the contras that involved many of the senior members of the Reagan administration, including the President and the Vice President, were at the core of the scandal. The Reagan administration’s coverup involved having administration officials alter documents and continually lie to Congress.
As now, the administration and its allies in Congress attacked the investigation with Bob Dole declaring “Lawrence Walsh’s bungling Iran-contra operation has struck out again. Unfortunately, the American taxpayers continue to be the real losers, watching their tax dollars going down the drain to maintain Mr. Walsh’s exercise in futility”. Dick Cheney helped author the Republican minority’s report in the House, writing, “The bottom line is that the mistakes of the Iran-contra Affair were just that — mistakes in judgment, and nothing more. There was no constitutional crisis, no systematic disrespect for ‘the rule of law,’ no grand conspiracy, and no Administration-wide dishonesty or cover-up”.
And, when Bush became President and was directly implicated in Walsh’s inquiry, Bill Barr, his Attorney General, had a convenient answer, recommending pardons for all involved. Bush acted on that advice and “in a single stroke, Mr. Bush swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh’s effort”. One of those preemptive pardons was give to Defense Secretary Weinberger who was scheduled to stand trial for lying to Congress about his notes indicating Bush’s knowledge of the operation, knowledge of which Bush had repeatedly denied. Bush decried the Walsh investigation as “a profoundly troubling development in the political and legal climate of our country: the criminalization of policy differences”.
The lesson of Iran-Contra was that lying, stonewalling, and attacking the investigation can be a sucessful tactic. And it has worked for Trump just as it worked for Bush. Trump will certainly see out his first term without impeachment and attempt to prevent the full Mueller report from ever becoming public. The lesson from this scandal for the future is that you can openly ask foreign allies and adversaries to engage in attacking your opponent and perverting the American electoral process to win the presidency and not pay a legal or, perhaps, even a political price.
To paraphrase Zach Dorfman, Watergate is the myth we tell ourselves to believe the system actually works. The 2000 election, Iran-Contra, and the current Russia investigation are the reality, which we refuse to confront, that shows the system actually failing.
Originally published at thesoundings.com on April 4, 2019.