In their wrangling regarding the release of the full Mueller Report, both Democrats and Republicans may be overlooking potentially significant political damage each might respectively sustain if it is released … and, in the Republicans’ case, if it is not.
As to the Democrats: after touting Mr. Mueller’s competence and integrity for the last two years (which seems to me to have been validated by what we know of the Report thus far) and clearly anticipating that indictments would be handed down against at least Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner if not the President himself, they are chagrined that no such actions were taken by the Muller team and want to have their own look at the evidence that the Special Counsel gathered. As to the Republicans: after fearing for two years that the Special Counsel would uncover evidence of a conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign, they and Mr. Trump are obviously giddy with relief with Mr. Mueller’s “headline” findings, and are outdoing themselves with claims that the Special Counsel completed exonerated Mr. Trump – which, given the Report snippet that Mr. Barr quoted in his letter to Congress, Mr. Mueller clearly did not.
As I indicated in the last post on Mr. Barr’s Advice to Congress, I consider it inevitable that large portions of the Report will be made public. I consider the points that Mr. Barr made in his letter regarding the need to redact passages describing grand jury matters and other ongoing matters such as those referred to other U.S. Attorneys’ offices by the Special Counsel to be valid reasons for withholding such content – while still serving as a useful subterfuge for Mr. Barr. (At one point I would have asserted that given the importance of the issues addressed by the Report to our Republic, the entire Report should be provided to select members of Congress, but any objective observer would have to concede that there are significant risks to such a course in Congress’ current hyper-partisan and sieve-like environment.)
That said, assuming much of the Report is ultimately released, it would seem that one of two outcomes will obtain:
- We will learn significant new information regarding the manners in which the Trump Campaign principals interacted with Russian agents, and find that Mr. Mueller and his team chose not to seek indictments against such principals because the evidence, although substantial, was not, in the Special Counsel’s view, sufficient to obtain a verdict of Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Alternatively or in tandem, we could learn significant new information regarding the President’s efforts to pressure government officials to drop the Russia probe, and that the Special Counsel chose not to proceed with obstruction charges against him either due to Department of Justice guidelines against indicting a sitting President or because the Special Counsel considered the evidence insufficient to obtain a Guilty verdict. In this event, Republicans’ current satisfaction will be akin to pleasure at being ahead in the first quarter of a football game, and Democrats will – in the current vernacular – be able to “weaponize” the contents of the full Report to bedevil the President and Republicans for much of the next two years (not to speak of their relishing in the irony of the Republicans’ outrage at authorities’ similar decision not to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her email peccadillos). Or …
- We learn nothing significant about the Trump Campaign’s interactions with Russian agents that we didn’t already know (e.g., the Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016; the President’s dictating of a fabricated account of the meeting on behalf of his son; that Trump representatives were, notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s denials, negotiating during the campaign to build a building in Moscow after the election; and that various government officials did feel that the President was pressuring them to squelch the Russia probe). As damning as these factors are to those of us that believe in integrity and are concerned with the dangers inherent in conflicts of interest, the President and his team have been brilliant at anesthetizing large segments of our people to these now-undisputed facts, and it seems likely that those voters that haven’t already decided to vote against the President will react to the release of such “revelations” with a yawn. In that case, the Democrats may well seem to be merely yammering, and President will appear to be vindicated … again.
At the same time, if large sections of the Special Counsel’s Report are never released, my inclination is that Mr. Trump and Republicans will lose ground with the undecided centrists that will determine the 2020 outcome. It will enable the Democratic nominee (whoever s/he is) to stand on the debate stage with the President and repeatedly ask why the Report hasn’t been released. Although Mr. Trump will try to place the responsibility on Mr. Barr, any adept Democrat will undoubtedly say, “Mr. Barr works for you – can’t you get him to do what you tell him to do?” (At such a juncture, the Democrat will be more interested in the issue than in the Report’s content.) One could pose that despite the Republicans’ current opposition to the Report’s release, they have more to gain than lose from its publication unless it contains truly new and damning information about the Trump Campaign’s activities.
I would accordingly suggest that the Mueller Report has become a potential political trap; the only uncertainty is upon which party the trap will spring. The only major political or media figure that seems to appreciate this is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; this week, while every other politician and commentator [including me 😉 ] has been discussing the Mueller Report, she’s been talking about … Democrats’ proposals to improve the Affordable Care Act :).