When people can’t see things, conspiracy theories fester. That goes double for President Donald Trump’s tax returns, which he’s made clear he’ll be keeping from public view, making many people wonder what he could be hiding.
The Justice Department is supposed to be scrubbing the Mueller report for release in some form to Congress. Redactions, cuts or edits will only feed frustration and lead to further conspiracy theories.
The American people are used to TMI, so the secrecy that keeps Robert Mueller’s report from public view is extremely difficult to process, especially given the seriousness of questions Mueller was investigating, like foreign election interference, possible campaign collusion and obstruction of justice.
Mueller invested two years and employed scores of attorneys and investigators, and as of now, the public has seen 74 words from his full report. That jumps to 89 if you include the single footnote in Barr’s summary and 101 if you count the title.
Those are the words and phrases inside quotation marks of the four-page summary Attorney General William Barr delivered to Congress.
The importance of the topline assessment that Mueller did not establish collusion cannot be overstated – and it’s good news for Trump. Mueller did not recommend any charges against the President and he didn’t recommend any new charges against White House or campaign aides – though of course, multiple Trump associates have already been convicted by Mueller’s team, while others await trial or are still being investigated through regular Justice Department channels.
The special counsel punted on the issue of obstruction of justice, but we don’t know exactly who he punted to – Congress, for example, or the public – only that the attorney general picked up the ball and ran with it.
What we do know
Even the quotes that have been released as part of Barr’s summary leave a lot to the imagination.
For instance, read this main quote that makes clear Mueller did not establish that Trump or his aides conspired with Russia:
”’[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.’”
That brackets there suggest a lower-case “t” was capitalized to form a sentence, which suggests there is a first part of the sentence. Does the first part of that sentence say what the investigation did establish? Does it say that Trump campaign officials had contact with Russians and that they benefited from Russia’s actions? Does it say that Russians took cues from Trump’s public comments?
It doesn’t really matter since we know all of those things to be true. But it shows how easy it is to go down the rabbit hole of questions when all we have is snippets of the truth.
None of the quotes from the Mueller’s report in Barr’s summary are complete sentences.
… “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
… “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference” …
Oh, to know what comes at the beginning of those sentences.
Quotes from Mueller aren’t the only ones that raise tantalizing questions. Here are some of Barr’s words about Mueller’s report, the second part of which Barr says, “addresses a number of actions by the President most of which have been the subject of public reporting that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns.”
Most is different than all. Which actions by the President that Mueller investigated haven’t been the subject of public reporting?
There is so much left between the known lines of what we’ve now learned is a more than 300-page report Mueller delivered to the Department of Justice.
Barr has said he’s currently scrubbing what Mueller delivered in order to remove classified information or information that can’t be released because it was from a grand jury investigation.
Of course, Trump could, theoretically, just declare all the classified information open to the public. Trump has said he’d have no problem with the report, which he still hasn’t seen, being made public.
“It’s up to the attorney general, but it wouldn’t bother me at all,” he said Monday.
Previous reports were made public
What if we only knew from the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email that she was not going to be prosecuted and not James Comey’s assessment that she had been reckless with classified information?
What if Bill Clinton’s attorney general had been able to issue a four-page memo instead of Ken Starr issuing his report?
That’s the question Monica Lewinsky used a four-letter word to eloquently muse about on Twitter this week. Her life would certainly have been different.
Starr’s report is still easily available on the Internet, or even as a book, which you can buy in paperback for $15.73. It’s 498 pages.
The only other special counsel to operate under similar DOJ guidelines as Mueller was Jack Danforth, who in 1999 investigated allegations of a government cover-up of the deadly federal government standoff at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993. He posted his findings on the Internet in their entirety, but he did so with the blessing of then-Attorney General Janet Reno.
The 9/11 commission report was another government work that was published for all to read, although the redacted final portion – 28 pages – led to years of conspiracy theories before most of it was released publicly in 2016.
Not all government reports see the light of day. A report from Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski wasn’t ultimately released until 44 years after it was first delivered to Congress. Not that it mattered in that case since the secret tapes the Watergate special prosecutor subpoenaed had long been public.
At least this much of Mueller’s investigation has been displayed in full public view: five people sentenced to prison, one person convicted at trial, seven people pleaded guilty, 37 people and entities charged, 199 overall criminal counts.