BY JOE CONASON
The Republican message from the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the Mueller report, featuring Attorney General Bill Barr, was perfectly blunt: Forget that any of this ever happened – unless and until we can figure out how to blame Hillary Clinton.
All of those “conservative” worthies including the chief law enforcement officer of the United States insist that the report doesn’t mean what it plainly says, and that Donald Trump did nothing wrong. So move along – now.
The flaw in their bluster is that Mueller, author of the aforementioned report, appears less inclined to go along with such fictions than they had expected. A prosecutor of ramrod integrity with a lifetime of service to his country, the former Marine and FBI director is also advertised as a strict adherent to chain of command, which, in this case, could have meant simply keeping quiet as officials up the chain spun, dissembled and buried his investigative findings. After all, he had watched silently as Barr deceived members of Congress about their dispute in congressional hearings on April 9 and April 20.
Unfortunately for Barr’s fellow Republicans, however, Mueller’s integrity overcame his conformity – as we now know from the angry letter he sent to Barr on March 27. Released the day of the Senate judiciary hearing, that letter firmly rebuked the attorney general for his unrelenting efforts to pre-spin the report’s findings in ways that affirmed President Trump’s “no collusion, no obstruction” self-exoneration.
Brazenly, Barr claimed Mueller offered no complaints about the accuracy of his infamous four-page summary of the report. He further claimed that what truly upset Mueller was not Barr’s inaccurate and truncated description of Mueller’s findings but the media coverage. He said Mueller told him so in a phone call on March 28, the day Barr received the letter.
“Bob, what’s with the letter?” Barr recalled asking Mueller in that conversation. “Why don’t you just pick up the phone and call me if there’s an issue?” The answer to that disingenuous question is obvious. Mueller knew by then that his old colleague Barr would lie – so he set down his “issues” on paper to make a record.
What’s with the letter? Mueller filed his 448-page report because the story of Russia’s incursion into our political system, the Trump campaign’s cooperation with that incursion and the conspiracy to prevent its exposure are both complex and critically important. He believes Americans with a limited attention span and an aversion to reading long legal documents should understand what he uncovered. He fears that the spin applied to his findings by Barr, even before the lengthy report’s release, twisted the story into its opposite.
And that made Mueller mad.
Sooner or later, someone will find a way to convey the report’s actual facts and conclusions to Americans in a comprehensible form. Maybe a movie or a comic book [or an impeachment hearing] would work. Then, despite the incessant spinning by Trump, Barr and their craven servants in Congress, people may understand that the absence of a criminal indictment does not exonerate Trump at all. If it had, Mueller would have had no reason to publish hundreds of pages of evidence describing the shady, unethical and unpatriotic conduct of the Trump campaign, all the way from George Papadopoulos and Roger Stone to the president himself.
People may also come to understand that Trump’s effort to conceal his campaign’s collusion with the Russians was at least a partial success. We still don’t know why campaign manager Paul Manafort gave sensitive internal polling data to a former employee identified as a G.R.U. intelligence asset in August 2016 – because Manafort stopped cooperating with Mueller after Trump’s lawyers promised he would be “taken care of.” He is now in prison awaiting his reward, a presidential pardon.
And people may eventually realize that were Trump not president – as Mueller explained clearly – he would be subject to indictment for that instance of obstruction and several others. A telling moment in Wednesday’s hearing came when Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-CT, displayed a chart that showed four episodes when Trump’s actions, according to Mueller, met all three criteria for criminal obstruction. It was one of several moments when Barr, caught in one of his biggest lies, simply didn’t respond.
But this attorney general, hollow instrument of a criminal president, may yet do worse. He stuttered and finally refused to answer when Sen. Kamala Harris asked whether any White House official, including Trump, has asked him to “open an investigation of anyone.” After less than three months in office, he should resign or be impeached. Consider it a practice session before the big show.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer