Max Steinbaum: Is it still Mueller time?

Thursday, April 11, 2019 - 3:37pm

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On May 17, 2017, Robert Mueller became a bloodhound. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein authorized a federal investigation into the Russian government’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and, in particular, the treasonous possibility of coordination between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow. Mueller, a former director of the FBI, was tapped by Rosenstein to serve as the investigation’s special counsel. It was also around this time that I bought a T-shirt. Riffing off the Milwaukee-based Miller Brewing Company’s logo and tagline, the shirt was cleverly imprinted with the phrase “It’s Mueller Time.” The shirt didn’t fit as well as I had hoped — you get what you pay for, I guess — but that wasn’t really the point. Who cares if it sits in a cardboard box in a dusty basement for 20 years? I’d still be able to give my kids a souvenir from the time a detested president was found guilty of treason, impeached, removed from office and maybe even jailed. It’d be a piece of history.

I realize now I was counting my chickens before they hatched, and maybe even being a bad American. Like many other Democrats, I had hoped (and expected) the Mueller investigation would end with a resounding condemnation of Trump. Next would be the vindicating CNN coverage of the Senate’s first conviction of a U.S. president on impeachment charges, and — if we were really lucky — a Mike Pence no-pardon miracle, all culminating with the image of our disgraced buffoon-in-chief in an orange jumpsuit in Alcatraz on the cover of Time magazine. As sweet as that would have been, it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen. What’s more, I was wrong to want it in the first place. Even if I, like many Americans, had suspicions of Trump-Moscow collusion, how could a good American want it to be true? If Mueller’s report were to confirm these suspicions, of course, that’d be one thing — but to have actively rooted for our president to be revealed a traitor?

On March 22, 2019 — nearly two years after the investigation began — Mueller’s office submitted its findings to Attorney General William Barr. Two days later, Barr penned a four-page summary of Mueller’s findings in a letter addressed to Congress. Per Barr’s summary, Mueller’s team did uncover evidence of Russian interference in the election, but the special counsel reportedly found no coordination between the Trump campaign and Moscow during the 2016 election race. If Barr’s summary is a faithful representation of Mueller’s findings, then I — and many Americans — owe our president an apology for our premature mischaracterizations. It must be acknowledged, however, that Mueller’s full report is nearly 400 pages; Barr’s submission to Congress was only four pages long. What’s more, on April 3, The New York Times reported members of Mueller’s team believe Barr “failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry,” and that the findings “were more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated.”

To be fair to Barr, it is unclear what that really means. I doubt Barr grossly misrepresented the Mueller report, but given the investigators’ commentary, it shouldn’t be controversial to question whether Barr’s letter accounted for the full scope and nuance of Mueller’s team’s findings. It is responsible and fitting that, on April 9, Barr reiterated he would provide a redacted version of the Mueller report to Congress by mid-April at the latest. While a censored copy of the Mueller report is better than a four-page sketch, Congress — which has the power to impeach and convict a president — ought to have access to the unedited original. Even Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer and vehement critic of the Mueller investigation, has called for full disclosure of the report to Congress.

Demanding that Congress see the unredacted version of the Mueller report isn’t just about being a resentful Democrat. Republicans and Trump supporters should be overwhelmingly in favor of this, too. They’ve been saying all along that the left’s accusations of collusion and obstruction of justice by the president are hogwash. And perhaps they’re right. Regardless, if they truly believe this, then the prospect of releasing an unredacted report to Congress ought to be seen as a golden opportunity to clear Trump’s name — and a satisfying chance to clamp the two-year-long Democratic screeching.

Only then, for better or worse, can we put this argument to rest and find other things to fight about. Until at least next week, however, we can’t responsibly say whether or not it’s still Mueller time.

Max Steinbaum can be reached at maxst@umich.edu.