Today, Attorney General William Barr released his summary of the “principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.” The document is light on details, but it contains a key quote from the special counsel’s report itself. Here it is, in full: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” This is unambiguously good news. If you doubt this, consider the alternative. Just imagine the bomb that would detonate in the American body politic if we discovered through this investigation that a sitting president worked with a hostile government (arguably our chief geopolitical foe) to try to tip the balance in a close election.
Instead, Americans should feel even greater confidence in the legitimacy of the 2016 election. They should reject — once and for all — the lurid conspiracy theories that have dominated parts of the Internet and gained entirely too much purchase in the broader media. And critically, they should trust Mueller’s conclusion. Remember how Trump’s defenders repeatedly and loudly noted that Mueller staffed his team with Democratic lawyers? Well, this is their report. Earlier today, MSNBC’s Joy Reid said that “it feels like the seeds of a cover-up are here.” This is irresponsible rhetoric. There is no evidence of a cover-up. Instead, there’s a great deal of evidence that Mueller conducted a thorough and diligent investigation.
So, what’s next? I agree with my colleague Andrew McCarthy. The American people need full disclosure — and not just of the Mueller report itself. We need to see relevant FISA applications, supporting documents, classified testimony, and any other evidence relevant to not just the Mueller investigation itself but also to the inception of the Trump–Russia investigation. This conclusion is rendered even more urgent by two important political realities.
The first relates to the obstruction of justice. As Barr explains in his letter, the Mueller report neither accuses Trump of committing obstruction of justice in the course of the investigation, nor does it exonerate him. Instead, the attorney general and deputy attorney general (both Trump appointees) examined the evidence and concluded that the evidence was “not sufficient” to conclude that the president obstructed justice. Democrats will trust this conclusion exactly as much as Republicans would trust a Democratic attorney general to evaluate the actions of a Democratic president.
The second important political reality relates to a common Republican theory of the Trump–Russia investigation — that it was conceived and pursued in bad faith, for wholly partisan political reasons. Under this theory, the entire Trump–Russia controversy truly began with an act of Democratic collusion — the Clinton campaign’s commissioning of Fusion GPS to conduct opposition research that became the infamous “Steele dossier.” In other words, there certainly was “worse-than-Watergate” corruption in 2016, but it was Democratic corruption.
Based on the publicly available evidence, I agree with Trey Gowdy. There would have been an investigation without the dossier. As he said, it had “nothing to do with [Donald Trump Jr.’s] meeting at Trump Tower.” It had “nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.” But that doesn’t mean the creation and use of the dossier was proper, or that the worst Republican allegations shouldn’t be examined and evaluated once and for all.
Finally, nothing in Barr’s letter excuses the fact that Trump hired and surrounded himself with some of the worst people in politics — felons and liars who sometimes committed crimes in the ham-handed attempt to cover up their own contacts or attempted contacts with Russian assets or operatives. The president’s personal lawyer, his campaign chair, his longtime friend and adviser, and his first national-security adviser (among others) each engaged in patterns of deception that were not only criminal, they created real and genuine alarm in fair-minded Americans that at least some people in the president’s inner circle were more than willing to work with our enemies abroad to gain financial or political advantage here at home.
But these facts notwithstanding, there are still grounds for immense relief that America’s most recent presidential election has been (further) legitimized and that years of speculation about President Trump’s ties to the Russian government have proven unfounded. These last 30 months of investigations — beginning well before Mueller’s appointment — are among the most divisive and contentious events in modern political history. As we wait to read the full report and move into the inevitable battles over its contents, we can be sure that more division and contention await. Yet today, at least, we can be grateful for the good news we have, and it is good news indeed.