By RAHN ADAMS
You would have enjoyed my first draft’s opening sentence about reading The Mueller Report much more than this one.
My discarded lede used the same, shall I say, colorful language that President Trump uses in various parts of the most awe-inspiring research document I’ve ever read — awesome just from a retired English teacher and former journalist’s perspective. From other viewpoints, the Report’s findings should inspire regret and trepidation among reasonable readers about what has happened to American democracy and to the Presidency over the past few years, and what could conceivably happen next.
But back to my first sentence, I figured that if the President says bad words and no one really cares, then I could say them, too. Still, unlike our President, who never descends from his bully pulpit, I decided not to be provocative just to get your attention, and not to use profanity when, instead, civility is what our divided society needs. That’s how we’ll keep Russia from succeeding again — by banding together to fight off attacks instead of letting them divide and conquer us, which is what they did in the 2016 Campaign and could do again in the 2020 Campaign.
Also, in this book report of sorts, I’ve decided to focus not on what other journalists and pundits have been discussing — sometimes inaccurately — ever since the redacted Report’s release two months ago, but on what I haven’t read or heard anywhere yet about potential “collusion,” neither in the mainstream press nor on social media. That’s not to say no one else has made these observations, just that I’m not aware of them in the reporting and commentary I’ve encountered so far.
If you’re hesitant to click the “Continue Reading” link below, rest assured that I’ll be relatively brief (my 1,600 words compared to Mueller’s 448 pages). It took me over two weeks to read The Mueller Report aloud from start to finish, but I can sum up my take on it in one sentence to save you from reading more than you might want of this, especially if you’re an unrepentant Trump supporter who still claims to be a truth-loving Christian: Donald J. Trump is a prolific liar and one of the most corrupt Presidents in U.S. history. But we already knew that, right? Well, now we have official documentation.
I said one of the most and not the most corrupt President, because I’ve never read independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s entire, uncut investigative report about President Bill Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, not even the salacious parts; I’ve read only brief historical accounts of the many scandals during the administrations of Presidents Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, and Warren G. Harding, not primary documents related to those episodes in our nation’s history; and I’ve never heard all of the expletive-laced Watergate Tapes or read even redacted transcripts of them in their expletive-deleted entirety (though, if you’re interested, those recordings are available to the public at no charge through the Nixon Presidential Library at this link).
However, when I was a small-town radio newsman in 1984, some 10 years after President Richard Nixon’s resignation, I did talk with former Senator Sam J. Ervin, Jr., who had served as chairman of the Senate Watergate Committee. In that interview, Senator Sam said of the Watergate affair: “This is the first time in the history of the United States that a conspiracy was formed to rob the American people of their right to have a free election for the nomination and election of a President.”
Let that statement sink in for a moment, especially the part about “a conspiracy . . . to rob the American people of their right to have a free election.” How is that situation any different from what we’re seeing now in the Trump-Russia investigation? It isn’t, really, except that now a foreign power is involved.
When you read Volume I of The Mueller Report, you see documented material — with 1,283 footnotes in Chicago Manual of Style format — describing Russia’s extensive interference in the 2016 election. On a personal level, what I learned there makes me want to give up all social media permanently, not just for the 40 days of Lent, as I’ve occasionally done in the past. That may be the only fail-safe way to avoid the potential corruption of social media platforms in the future, despite corporate promises to thwart foreign meddling.
As you might have already read in the photo caption above, Trump’s claim that The Mueller Report fully exonerates him of collusion with Russia in the 2016 election is misleading. What’s especially frustrating is that I’ve heard mainstream media types — not just conservative blow-hards on talk radio and Fox News — say the same thing time and again since April 18th when Attorney General William Barr released (and misrepresented) the redacted Report.
Here’s an example of Barr’s verbal sleight of hand that you may already know about — the complete quotation from the Report’s introduction, not just the full complex sentence’s main clause that the attorney general chose to use without the two introductory dependent clauses, which are equally important to the sentence’s meaning:
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the [Trump] Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities” (pp. 1-2).
The verb “establish,” which is used repeatedly throughout the entire document, is a key word in understanding the Report and why Congress alone must continue investigating the Trump-Russia affair, either through additional hearings — like Mueller’s expected appearance before Congress on July 17th — or through impeachment proceedings.
Look again at the full quotation above. See what the investigation “established.” Then note what it “did not establish.” That’s important, because a few sentences later on page 2, Mueller adds, “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.” If you suspect I’m taking that quotation out of context, then please go read the entire introduction for yourself. It’s just over two pages long and can be read for free at this link.
In the executive summary of Volume I — also easily readable, I should point out — Mueller goes on to write that “the investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the [Special Counsel’s] Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference” (p. 9).
Mueller explains that the Report is not “a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation,” for various reasons such as witnesses invoking their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination; certain privileged information not being available, including material that an appointed “taint team” ruled out; false or incomplete information from some witnesses; information from individuals and documents outside the U.S. (that does include Russia, of course); and some witnesses, “including some associated with the Trump Campaign,” deleting “relevant communications” or using “applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records” (p. 10).
The executive summary of Volume I ends with this disquieting sentence — and, unlike Barr’s reductive style, I’ll give you the whole sentence: “Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the [Special Counsel’s] Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report” (p. 10).
I wonder if some of that unavailable information will be revealed when Trump confidante Roger Stone goes on trial Nov. 5th in federal court on charges of lying to Congress, obstructing justice and witness tampering. I wonder about that ongoing case and other investigations that Mueller initiated.
And then there are the 10 separate situations delineated in Volume II involving Trump’s mainly post-election behavior as potential obstruction of justice, the alleged offenses that most mainstream media reporting and commentary focus on now. Imagine how those situations impacted the progress of the investigation described in Volume I.
Speaking of complete pictures, it’s as if the Special Counsel’s investigation went (or was allowed to go) only so far and no further when final jigsaw puzzle pieces might have been found and snapped into place to reveal key aspects of any potential conspiracy. After all, Mueller states up front on the second page of Volume II that “we determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.”
That undoubtedly was the same standard followed in all facets of the investigation — as described in both volumes of the Report — because, according to Justice Department policy, a sitting President cannot be formally charged with a crime. Mueller goes to great lengths in the Report to explain those controversial guidelines.
According to the Special Counsel, charging and trying a sitting President for impeachable offenses is the sole responsibility of Congress. As this past Monday night’s readers-theater play The Investigation: A Search for the Truth in Ten Acts (available for now on YouTube at this link) portrayed so well, Mueller did his job, and now it’s the people’s turn to act, whether through our representatives in Congress or at the ballot box on Election Day 2020.