Although the facts compiled after a two-year investigation by Robert Mueller compel the independent counsel to conclude that his final report “does not exonerate” Donald Trump from obstruction of justice charges, they have become after a two-day review by Attorney General William Barr what the president has called “total vindication.”
Barr, who’s been on the job for barely a month, proved deserving of the president’s confidence, spinning the Mueller report into a four-page memo to Congress designed to confuse as much as clarify.
One glaring example is Barr’s manipulation of Mueller’s own words as illuminated by Slate’s William Saletan, who points out that in his memo, Barr quotes a portion of the report saying, “The evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime,” which is accurate. But the attorney general goes further, concluding, “the absence of such evidence bears upon the president’s intent with respect to obstruction.” But Saletan says Barr is “writing partisan spin” because he has misrepresented an absence of proof as an absence of evidence. Mueller refers to a presence, rather than an absence, of evidence in the report.
But make no mistake, the long anticipated Mueller report, at least the distillation provided by the AG, represents a bitter disappointment for Democrats, a rousing triumph for Trump supporters and the GOP, as well as a guarantee that an even more unrestrained president will feel vindicated enough to spend the remainder of his first term running roughshod over whatever political norms remain intact. While congressional Democrats regroup, attempting to forge a way forward in their own investigations of Trump and his associates, the Republican mantra will quickly become, “Move on folks, nothing to see here.”
For his part, Trump has already begun the retribution tour, repeating that he was totally vindicated ... “No collusion, no obstruction” ... and that an investigation of “the other side” should be conducted over “an illegal takedown that failed;” while Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted the findings of the DOJ are a “total and complete exoneration” of the president of the United States. It was expected in the coming days that the White House, along with their media shills at Fox News, would “slam and shame the media,” invoking the president’s chaos theory to further cloud the already complicated picture. And to be sure, the Trumpists have the rhetorical upper hand, at least for the foreseeable future, simply because their argument will be difficult to articulately refute. They will quote the Barr memo as hard evidence of no collusion and his own determination of no obstruction while the president’s detractors will be burdened with developing a more complicated, fairly nuanced argument of why particularly in the area of obstruction of justice Americans should not be convinced of anything until the Mueller report is released in its entirety, which is at Barr’s discretion and certainly will not happen any time soon, leading to rampant speculation.
Meanwhile, Trump’s victory lap, coupled with his supporters dictating the narrative, will find the rest of the country that is, the other tribe feeling similarly to the way they did in November 2016 when it became apparent that we had elected a supremely unqualified, seriously addled narcissist as president. Although the misery may last awhile, there are several things they should consider before completely losing their minds.
The first is the Mueller investigation was narrow in scope. Determining the evidence was insufficient to indict the president is hardly a glowing addition to the Trump résumé. It’s difficult to spin “not a criminal” into a positive attribute, not that this will deter the GOP from doing precisely that.
Also, the report did not change who the president is, offering no heartfelt platitudes of his occupation of the moral high ground.
The Mueller report does nothing to change the fact that Donald Trump remains Donald Trump, thoroughly in over his head as president of the United States: a vicious, self centered narcissist, willing to attack or demean anyone unwilling to genuflect in his direction. He is still ignorant of everything beyond what he already knows, which isn’t nearly enough, with a stoic determination to learn nothing else.
It is difficult to imagine Trump moving forward with even more confidence, and that’s almost certainly what he will do, but we should put that aside. Although, based on how the weekend played out, the president’s repudiation will have to wait. We should take solace in the fact that however slowly the wheels of justice turn, Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 is less than two years away.
Walt Amses lives in North Calais.