On Friday, Robert Mueller, special counsel to investigation Russian interference in the 2016 election, submitted his report to the Attorney General, William Barr. This is the 2nd time William Barr has held the position (his first time was under George H.W. Bush). The country has held it’s breath for the past 48 hours as everyone has waited patiently for him to summarize the conclusions of the report. Today, on Sunday around 3 p.m. Mr. Barr submitted that letter. This is what he sent to Congress.
The conclusions of the report are fairly straightforward.
- There is evidence of Russian hacking in the 2016 election
- There is evidence of social media influence in the 2016 election
- There is no evidence that anyone from the Trump campaign knowingly coordinated with the Russian government
- There is insufficient evidence to charge President Trump with obstruction of justice. However, the Special Counsel notes that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The letter in regards to the report describes the size of the team and how the investigation was conducted. The letter does address indictments beyond the Russian nationals that the special counsel indicted and does not go into Manafort, Cohen, or other crimes. Most of the other investigations (with the exception of half of Manafort’s indictments) were handled by other parts of the government anyway).
The letter is 4 pages long and is a summary of the report. Attorney General Barr also mentions that to release the report, there will have to be redactions as legally the report is confidential and also because there are “6e” or grand jury matters contained within the report that legally are required to be kept secret forever unless a judge decides there is a reason to break that secrecy. Representative Nadler who is on House Judiciary is already calling for AG Barr to be in front the committee as soon as possible.
President Trump Claps Back
President Trump was in Mar-a-lago this weekend with the First Lady and their son Barron. Upon is arrival back in Washington he took an early victory lap. I summarized this remarks live at the time on twitter:
Trump is talking to reporters now in Washington. He’s definitely taking a victory lap. “There was no collusion with Russia.” “It’s a Shane the country has had to go through this.”— cameroncowan (@cameroncowan) March 24, 2019
He is taking the conclusion as a complete exoneration of the entire matter which isn’t entirely true. There is still some quite large questions about why Mueller didn’t decide to make a decision about obstruction of Justice. According to legal minds like Joyce Vance (an MSNBC regular) and Seth Abramson, it looks like Mueller has left that decision with Congress. Obstruction of Justice is an impeachable crime. However, because of this letter and the nature of the report as such, impeachment is off the table. Let me explain.
The Politics of Perception
The spin came right away on Sunday. Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a quick tweet that should tell us everything we need to know about how the White House is going to handle this.
The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction. AG Barr and DAG Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction. The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) March 24, 2019
The President echoed her comments on Twitter as well saying that we need to “Keep America Great.” Some had noted that from Friday onwards he had stayed off Twitter until early this morning when he wished the country a good morning and made a MAGA tweet. He later claimed that it was an “illegal takedown that failed.”
Politics is all about perception. It’s more about the general feeling about an issue rather than black and white facts. Although the fact that the report finds no crime but does not exonerate is an important conclusion, it will get buried over a barrage of headlines from all the outlets ranging from the New York Times to the Rolling Stones claiming that there was no collusion and no crimes committed by the President. That will be what is remembered. Many are already calling for an investigation to start in on Hillary Clinton and many others on the Left who are the “true criminals.”
The other thing that won’t be forgotten, especially by voters is the 2 year obsession by the media in regards to this investigation and this report. Twitter has often been divided by the Right claiming that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and a gleeful Left wearing “Mueller Time” t-shirts and waiting for the investigation to finally take down Trump. The Rachel Maddow Show went all in on Russia reporting every single step in the process and analyzing every indictment looking for clues. In this case, it looks like that air-time was spent for nought. Instead of a take-down report, this turned out to be really nothing that spectacular at all. That is going to be a point of attack against democrats for the next 2 years as the election heats up.
Democrats already have sensed that banking on the Russia investigation was no way to win elections. In 2018, the democrat candidates up and down the ticket focused on economics and healthcare. The new freshmen democrats have not been focused on the report. Nancy Pelosi recently pushed back on impeachment saying that “he isn’t worth it.”
Much like the OJ Simpson verdict or the Rodney King verdict, many people will be unhappy with what has happened. Others still will point to the many other ongoing investigations as points of hope that this all is not over and that more may be found. However, the reality is that the likelihood of Trump losing in 2020 has gone down considerably. He remains polling at about 45% and while that’s not spectacular, previous Presidents have survived. Peter Buttigieg said it best when he said that Trumpism must be defeated at the ballot box, not in the courts. The victory must be complete and not hollow. However, I don’t think there is going to be a victory of any kind. The simple truth is that the media focus on this report will leave the Right vindicated for supporting Trump and it will leave the Left with egg on their face for hoping beyond all hope that Robert Mueller would save us all from Trump.
It’s Good for the Country
Joe Scarborough tweeted Sunday afternoon that despite the disappointment from many on the Left it is a good thing that the campaign wasn’t colluding with Russia. Objectively that is true. It is a good thing to know that Russia had to try to change the results using outside forces like Wikileaks and social media in order to try and change the results. At least we can take some hope in our democracy. We should take heart that Trump does not appear to be a Russian asset, at least as far as the election is concerned. That is a good thing. Now is the time to attack Trump on policy. There are plenty of policies to complain about like immigration policy and the lack of a new healthcare plan.
The Day 2020 was Lost
All that being said, March 24, 2019 will most likely go down as the day the Democrats lost 2020. With nothing exciting from this report and a solid spin from the President and his lawyers like Jay Sekulow, who has already been on live coverage reports, this is going to be incredibly hard to recover from for anyone who is running for President in 2020. The perception is that the Left was just trying to come for President Trump and they failed. This just looks bad. It’s not as bad as the spin will make it seem, but for voters, it will seem bad. It will seem like a wasted 22 months of time and money and that Democrats were just sore losers from 2016. For Democrats, the best thing is to do what they have already done: move on. The full report may or may not come out in full and at this point, it probably won’t matter. The whole idea that Trump is a corrupted Russian asset narrative is over and it’s time to give it up and just move on. For those running this will be a great brand building exercise and Democrats will have a real chance to change things in this country in 2024. For now, this narrative is over and I fear that 2020 may already be over before it has even started.