Memo to those who are taking a wait-and-see attitude about how Attorney General William Barr will handle Robert Mueller’s final report on the Russia scandal: The waiting is over and what we’re seeing has all the the earmarks of a whitewash.
The special counsel’s final report not only does not exonerate Trump. Hiding behind myriad redactions and peeking out between the lines in the copious appendices is some very nasty shit involving Trump as entrepreneur, candidate and president, including obstruction of justice. But Barr is maneuvering to try to hide the stuff that the big boss needs to keep secret.
Barr’s good-dog posture is not surprising, nor is the view of many if not most congressional Republicans that his letter of last Sunday evening summarizing the final report is all they need to see.
Mueller, his 19 prosecutors and some 50 FBI agents investigate for 22 months, but barely four days after the special counsel submits his final report to Barr, the AG concludes the big boss isn’t guilty of anything.
Barr’s disingenuousness in slow-walking release of the final report is so in your face as to suggest that this seasoned veteran of covering up — he was the principal architect of the Iran-Contra scandal whitewash — is going through the motions for the benefit of holier-than-thou Republicans while creating a narrative for a largely unquestioning news media to swallow. Good thing that congressional Democrats aren’t having a stick of it.
Nowhere is Barr’s charade of being independent more apparent than in the matter of Trump’s many efforts to obstruct justice, which after the firing of James Comey on deceptive grounds resulted in Mueller’s appointment in the first place. Barr’s “reasoning” here is that because Mueller was unable to clear the extremely high threshold to present a prosecutable case of a criminal conspiracy (collusion) with Russia nor did he come to a conclusion regarding obstruction of justice, therefore Trump could not have obstructed.
Two very big problems here: Barr had as much as said Trump obstructed justice during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. Second, the special counsel did not exonerate Trump. But Barr, along with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, did exactly that in their letter to Congress, which was a paltry and incomplete four-page summary of the final report.
Despite bringing 37 indictments and 199 criminal charges in the course of Mueller’s investigation, it is reasonable to believe that it also was a counterintelligence investigation — that is, whether the president of the United States has been working for Russian interests — because that was an important part of Mueller’s marching orders.
There was not a peep about counterintelligence in Barr’s initial and a subsequent letter to Congress on Friday afternoon.
Nothing about to what extent has Trump been compromised by Russia, undermining his constitutional duties as president. And what are Trump’s financial obligations to Russia? Why does Trump avoid criticizing Vladimir Putin even when the Russian leader orders his agents to poison people on foreign soil? Why has Trump opposed sanctions against Russia? Why is Trump so uninterested in addressing Russian threats to the electoral system?
So is the second big whitewash in Barr’s career under way? I believe so.
A definitive answer will soon emerge as we see how long Barr can stonewall — or alternately rope-a-dope — the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee and committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, who is insisting on seeing the entire report, including those crucial appendices, without redactions.
A full, redaction-free report is likely to show, among other things, that candidate Trump and his campaign didn’t need to reach out to Moscow because they already were getting help. A link already had been established. And there were instances where Trump tried to slow the momentum of Mueller’s investigation and nearly ordered him fired before being persuaded by West Wing staffers to back off.
(It is not known whether Mueller addresses Trump’s firing of Jeff Sessions as Barr’s predecessor because of his unchecked anger over Sessions’ recusal from the Comey phase of the Russia investigation because of his meetings during the campaign with the Russian ambassador to the U.S.)
There is a Judiciary Committee deadline of Tuesday for Barr to produce the goods, but he has said he will blow right by that and his promise in that subsequent letter that he’ll produce the final report by “mid-April if not sooner” is suspect because it is likely to be heavily redacted despite Nadler’s demand.
Meanwhile, Trump and Republicans are hard at work trying to create diversions, including calling for the removal of Adam Schiff as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Schiff, whom the ever-gracious Trump has called “little pencil-necked Adam” in recent speeches, was the lone voice of sanity on the Intelligence Committee when it was run by Republican Devin Nunes, who ostensibly recused himself as chairman after being found conspiring with Trump aides but never really did. Among the more bizarre conclusions reached by the committee, which did not allow Schiff and fellow Democrats to have their say, was that Russia did not interfere in the election to help elect Trump.
Schiff’s response is worth quoting. An excerpt:
My [Republican] colleagues might think it’s OK that the Russians offered dirt on the Democratic candidate for president as part of what’s described as the Russian government’s effort to help the Trump campaign. You might think that’s OK.
My colleagues might think it’s OK that when that was offered to the son of the president, who had a pivotal role in the campaign, that the president’s son did not call the FBI; he did not adamantly refuse that foreign help – no, instead that son said that he would “love” the help with the Russians.
You might think it’s OK that he took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that Paul Manafort, the campaign chair, someone with great experience running campaigns, also took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that the president’s son-in-law also took that meeting. You might think it’s OK that they concealed it from the public. You might think it’s OK that their only disappointment after that meeting was that the dirt they received on Hillary Clinton wasn’t better. You might think that’s OK.
You might think it’s OK that when it was discovered, a year later, that they then lied about that meeting and said that it was about adoptions. You might think that it’s OK that it was reported that the president helped dictate that lie. You might think that’s OK. I don’t.
Not a single fact in what Schiff said, and he said a great deal more — about sharing polling data with a suspected Russian spy, about Trump calling on Russia to release Hillary Clinton emails, which it dutifully did within hours, about Trump’s son-in-law trying to open secret backchannels with Moscow, about Trump’s longest serving adviser being in direct contact with Russian hackers, and about the Trump Tower Moscow project — is in dispute.
There is a precedent for Schiff and Nadler and their committees being given the kind of information they are seeking from Barr — the Clinton email investigation.
But that was then when the Justice Department dutifully complied with requests fromRepublican-led committees, and now is now and Democrats lead those committees.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on March 30, 2019 on Kiko’s House, a website featuring commentary by journalist and author, Shaun Mullen. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Mullen.