Sunday is traditionally a day of rest, but not for habitual liars. Which is why Donald Trump greeted the news of the Mueller report – correction, a report summary prepared and spun by his handpicked attorney general – by going on Twitter and spiking the ball in the end zone: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.”
If what the attorney general says is accurate – and all we’ve gotten so far is the Barr minimum – Robert Mueller has apparently found that Trump did not criminally conspire with Russia when it attacked the 2016 election. He can now legitimately crow about “no collusion.” But the rest of his Sunday tweet was nonsensical. Mueller did not say that Trump was innocent of obstructing justice. Barr’s summary quotes Mueller directly: “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” (Emphasis mine.)
We’ll need to see the report itself to determine why Mueller left that door ajar, but we also need to put the report in perspective and focus on the big picture. Ignore for now what we don’t know about the report and bear in mind everything we already know. Because it’s all there, hideously so, in plain sight:
A hostile foreign power staged an unprecedented clandestine invasion of our democratic system, for the purpose of electing Trump. Trump deliberately or obliviously went along for the ride, reaping the benefits (like a huge public dump of stolen Democratic emails, released within minutes of the release of the “Hollywood Access” tape), negotiating well into the election season for a Moscow Trump Tower (a blatant conflict of interest), ignoring umpteen pieces of evidence that Russia was hacking on his behalf and indeed bragging about Russia’s conduit (“I love WikiLeaks!”), concocting a fake cover story to conceal his son Donald’s quest for Russian dirt, publicly asking for Russia’s help against Hillary (“Russia, if you’re listening…”), later refusing to support the U.S. intelligence community’s consensus on Russian interference, spilling highly classified western intelligence to the Russians in an Oval Office chat, siding with Putin against his own country at the Helsinki summit, and, ever since, showing virtually zero interest in protecting this nation from similar and more sophisticated attacks. And when aides were approached by the Russians, not one of them dropped a dime and called the FBI.
Yeah, some exoneration.
It was all done in plain sight. As one prominent American told Trump on national TV prior to the election, “It’s pretty clear you won’t admit that the Russians have engaged in cyberattacks against the United States of America, that you encouraged espionage against our people, that you are willing to spout the Putin line, sign up for his wish list, break up NATO, do whatever he wants to do and that you continue to get help from him because he has a very clear favorite in this race.” Thank you, Hillary Clinton.
David Frum, the reality-based conservative commentator, wrote yesterday that it’s irrelevant whether Trump actually “colluded.” The bottom line is, “he received stolen goods, but he did not conspire with the thieves in advance…Are Americans comfortable with this president in the White House, now that they know he broke no prosecutable criminal statutes on the way into higher office?”
Is that, in fact, the new (lower) standard? Just because Trump has not been criminally accused, are we supposed to ignore the horrific questions that still demand to be answered? Why, for instance, did Putin want Trump to win so badly? Why does Trump kowtow to Putin at every opportunity and refuse to safeguard our national security from a future electoral attack? And Evan McMullin, a conservative and former CIA operations officer, tweets another good question: “Is it (now) acceptable for our leaders to secretly pursue business deals with hostile foreign nations while encouraging & covering for their attacks against us?”
Americans in 2018 voted for accountability, so the House Democrats will have to tackle those questions – and multitudes more. The report itself may shed light on those matters, assuming we get to see it. And no Republican victory dance can erase the fundamental truth that the Trump regime was put in place with Russia’s help, and that Trump aides are in jail or heading there because they lied under oath to conceal that truth. This is ultimately a political issue, not a legal issue. Voters in 2020 will likely have to decide whether this is the kind of America they want (one that betrays our democratic values), and whether this is the kind of president they want (one who believes that eluding a criminal charge is tantamount to a “complete and total exoneration”).
In the words of conservative attorney George Conway, husband of Kellyanne, “Whatever happens this day or the next, or in this investigation or the next or the one after that, we should always remember this: We should expect far more from a president than merely that he not be provably a criminal beyond a reasonable doubt.”