The ultimate irony in Glenn Greenwald and the rest of the perpetual Russiagate skeptics’ victory lap is that people who (correctly) operate under the principle of not trusting anything the federal government says are entrusting their entire opinion of the Mueller Report to the credibility of Trump’s attorney general, William Barr. Robert Mueller did not completely clear Donald Trump. Anyone making that case clearly did not read the key line exonerating President Trump in Bill Barr’s writeup (looking at you, New York Times):
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.
Greenwaldians: Never trust the Feds!
Also Greenwaldians: The Feds said I was right! Hooray for me!
My point here is how silly the “according to Trump’s Attorney General, Trump is innocent, therefore, end of debate” line sounds (Mueller did seemingly clear Trump on another key charge, which I will get to shortly). Bill Barr was sold to us as a right-wing ideologue who nonetheless has respect for the rule of law, and last night, the notion that Barr has any respect for the law was blown out of the water when his DOJ sided with one of the most comically inadequate and likely illegal rulings made by a judge in recent memory—pledging to take away health care from millions of people.
My fellow leftists, I beg of you, do not staple your credibility to William Barr. Yes, MSNBC and their ilk greatly oversold the degree of this Russia conspiracy, but your point about the investigation being bunk rests entirely on an Attorney General who just eschewed the rule of law for a nakedly political stunt surely directed to him by Trump. Plus, the actual Mueller Report that would give us the truth that is being hidden by Mitch McConnell in Congress. If it was as vindicating as the DOJ claims it to be, wouldn’t the GOP have no problem in releasing it? Let’s be real: we would have never given the same benefit of the doubt to Hillary’s AG stating a secret report as fact, so why are so many assuming that Trump’s AG’s assessment of the Mueller Report is wholly rational and nonpartisan?
Trump’s DOJ clearly feels emboldened right now. They got a favorable ruling from Mueller that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” (key word being establish, meaning that Mueller is talking about the de jure aspect of collusion, not the de facto one presented to us by evidence like Don Jr.’s e-mails). Trump is clearly expecting a polling boost (which is a good assumption to make given how hysteric the cable news #resistance got over this whole investigation), and I think that these events happening on back-to-back days are related. The 2020 election has already begun, and with a “no collusion” victory seemingly already in hand, Trump has turned his aim on a (formerly) unpopular policy he clearly wants to use as a talking point come 2020.
Why Are We Trusting the Trump Administration?
We do not know what Mueller’s ultimate conclusions are. We know two key findings—one that essentially punts the obstruction of justice question to Congress—and a couple portions of sentences clearing Trump of wrongdoing on collusion (one thing to note, a key sentence from the Special Counsel had the ends of it cut off in Barr’s report, and as any editor will tell you, what comes at the beginning and end of the sentence can potentially change the meaning of partial sentences like this one from Mueller: “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,”).
We also know that Mueller said “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The Trump administration does not respect the rule of law, including the people at the very top of the DOJ implementing the rule of law. With this craven move to agree with an opinion no one took seriously in order to kill the Affordable Care Act, Barr has declared himself to be a Trump toady. Trump needs talking points going into 2020, and “I repealed Obamacare” is also his way of dancing on John McCain’s grave, which his base just eats up. It could not be clearer that this decision by the DOJ to forego its typical standards and practices is driven directly by political calculations by Trump for 2020, meaning that when it comes to Obamacare, Barr = Trump.
So why wouldn’t we use a similar calculus on the Russia investigation given that Barr is the controlling power on that as well? Again, we have quotes from Robert Mueller strenuously pushing back against the Russian collusion angle, but they are incomplete quotes. If this is as innocuous as Barr’s writeup makes it seem, why is Mitch McConnell blocking the release of the Mueller Report? Hell, they sold the Starr Report about Bill Clinton in bookstores!
Unfortunately, the handful of extremely online leftists patting themselves in the back with the enthusiasm of a hummingbird (these examples are outliers, I have observed the reaction on the left to be fairly tame and reserved, it’s really just the Glenn Greenwald and Michael Tracey types who are acting like they won an Academy Award because Trump’s AG said they were right) are clearly putting normal journalistic standards behind their ego. They have been under siege for the last couple years and Mueller really did prove part of their argument correct. Liberals need to back off the collusion angle unless we see something out of Mueller that pushes back against his line of “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.” In a lot of ways, Tracey and Greenwald were right, so basking in their partial vindication is understandable.
But we don’t know that Trump is completely vindicated for certain. If anything, Mueller gave more legitimacy to the obstruction of justice angle by saying that is an issue that goes above his head, and should be determined by Congress. We don’t even know how long the Mueller Report is. We know far less than Bill Bar does.
And that’s ultimately the central problem here: certainty. The most we know about Robert Mueller’s findings comes from a four-page report written up by an Attorney General and his Deputy who also just declared one of the most nakedly political assaults on the law we have seen since the days of Nixon. As this ACA attack demonstrates, there is no reason to trust anything coming out of Trump’s DOJ. Trump is his DOJ, his DOJ is Trump, and given Trump’s obsession with the Mueller investigation, why should we believe anything his DOJ says about it either?
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.