The political divide in Washington has just gotten a bit deeper and nastier.
The 400-plus page final report of the investigation into Russian attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election is finally out and the clarity that so many had hoped for — this was supposed to be the final word on the Trump-Russia link — is nowhere to be found.
Instead, each side is seeing the report through its own prism. There is no direct light.
This, despite the fact that the report is meticulously detailed in presenting the evidence. It is the findings that are muddy and open to interpretation.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team found proof of Russian meddling in the election, but no formal conspiracy with the Trump campaign. There was, however, a lot of unethical stuff going on — such as candidate Trump publicly urging the Russians to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails.
In essence, the Trump campaign did not work with Moscow to disrupt the 2016 election, but it certainly welcomed the results.
And then there is the question of obstruction of justice — just how far did Donald Trump go to stop the Mueller investigation?
Here, there is no direct answer. The report lays out in excruciating detail 10 disturbing incidents that could constitute obstruction, but in the end states that it is not up to the special counsel to determine if President Trump should face criminal charges.
Contrary to what we were all led to believe by Attorney General William Barr, the report does not exonerate the president. Instead, it states:
“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, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
And so Mueller laid out a “road map” for others to pursue, citing the detailed testimony of dozens upon dozens of witnesses and telling a tale of a president who tried repeatedly through intermediaries to stop the investigation in its tracks.
Apparently, the reason why the inquiry survived was that these aides ignored Trump’s instructions.
In other words, according to the report, he WANTED to obstruct the investigation, but his orders to do so were never carried out:
“The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out his requests.”
There is a lot of stuff there that we never knew about. Many Americans probably thought Trump might have tried to influence the investigation through his constant Twitter rants. But the Mueller report paints a picture of a president who tried desperately behind the scenes to scuttle the inquiry and who — according to one quote — felt the appointment of a special counsel signaled the end of his presidency.
So while Donald Trump does not face any indictments as the result of this investigation, his reputation has taken a deep hit. The portrait painted by the Mueller report is of a White House based on a culture of lies, and a president whose actions may not have technically been illegal but were definitely immoral and unethical.
Trump, meanwhile, after initially welcoming the report (or at least the sunny summary first provided by Attorney General Barr) has gone back on the offensive, rallying his supporters with claims of an unsubstantiated “witch hunt” led by his enemies.
More lies… more paranoia… and more presidential diatribes on Twitter (even during the Easter-Passover holiday weekend).
Truth be told, a lot of people had plenty to say about the Mueller report on social media — not just the president.
Ian Brenner — a well-known political scientist and head of the Eurasia Group — had one of the most memorable posts:
“Mueller report shows how Trump wants to be an authoritarian leader.
But can’t be.
Because the checks and balances on his power are too strong.
Because his own advisors won’t help him.
And because he is too incompetent to pull it off.”
Democrats in Congress, on the whole, were remarkably restrained. While there were calls for impeachment hearings, party leaders continue to remain committed to a somewhat more restrained approach. In part this is because they know any impeachment effort in the Democratic Party-run house will die in the Senate, which has a Republican majority. They also know a political circus in the House could detract from efforts to tackle issues of importance to voters — such as rising health care costs.
Many on Capitol Hill are still plowing their way through the Mueller report, trying to digest all the evidence and decipher how best to follow the investigatory “road map” contained in its 448-pages. Complicating matters is the fact some passages in the report have been blacked out — or “redacted” — for reasons known only to Attorney General Barr and his staff.
Congress is trying to get the full uncompromised version and maybe one day the American people will see the whole thing too. But even in its redacted state, it is being praised as a ground-breaking account of the Trump administration by no less than the Pulitzer Prize winning book critic for the Washington Post, Carlos Lozada.
When the report was released on Thursday, April 18th, legions of reporters and editors were assigned to take deep dives into its content. So did Lozada, whose initial review went viral.
In that review, he writes that the Mueller report “isn’t just a legal finding. It’s also the greatest nonfiction book about Trump.”
Lozada starts his review as he would a critique of any other political tome, writing about plot twists and structure and noting there are “too many footnotes and distracting redactions.”
But his appreciation for the historic nature of the report and its potential long-term impact soon becomes clear. The book, he says, “reveals the president in all his impulsiveness, insecurity and growing disregard for rules and norms.”
The Mueller report, by the way, is already a best-seller. Less than 24 hours after it first became available as an online document, two paperback versions topped Amazon’s list of best-selling new releases.
Lozado suggests it is required reading and concludes his review this way:
“Mueller’s work is done, yes. But how we — and the president — respond to it now will mark the first of several volumes to come.”
In other words: “The ending is up to us.”