The Barr Report isn’t at all like the Mueller Report which isn’t at all like the Starr Report

The Starr Report was the 445-page culmination of the so-called Whitewater investigation–a wide-ranging investigation of President Bill Clinton. It was immediately released in full to Congress and then released to the public two days later revealing the details of years of investigations.  Most consequentially, it documented an improper sexual affair between Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky which Starr’s team had begun leaking to the press several months earlier. That affair led to Clinton’s impeachment and although Clinton soon emerged from the political crisis unscathed, it ruined Lewinsky’s life and almost caused her to commit suicide.

This is completely different from the Mueller Report which nobody has seen outside of Trump’s inner circle.

Imagine if the Starr Report had been provided only to President Clinton’s Attorney General, Janet Reno, who then read it privately and published a 4-page letter based on her private reading stating her conclusion that President Clinton committed no crimes.

Orin Kerr

Monica Lewinsky emphatically agreed, tweeting “If. Fu*king. Only.”

Megan Garber recently wrote about scams in America in The Atlantic and claimed that Donald Trump’s loud drumbeat of declarations that the Mueller Report amounted to a “Total EXONERATION” is a scam.  Attorney General William Barr’s four-page interpretation of the Mueller Report clearly quotes Mueller saying he is NOT exonerating Trump. Furthermore Garber thinks that Barr is helping Trump scam the public. The fact that Barr has been delaying release of anything more than his 4-page interpretation AND that he wants to spend weeks or months redacting anything he eventually decides to release does suggest that he might be scamming us.

He obviously cannot release sensitive information to the general public, but Congress has security clearance and Congress ordered the Mueller investigation in the first place, but the Trump Administration does not even want to release it to Congress.
Anonymous members of the Mueller investigation have said that the Mueller Report included multiple short summaries that were ready for release to Congress. Those summaries would also be relatively easy to release to the public. Instead of releasing any of that, Barr has only released 101 words out of the hundreds of pages in the report.  This suggests that he might be part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to hide something.

But the Republicans in the House didn’t think so initially. They took Trump at his word when he repeatedly said that the report is a “Total EXONERATION” and they immediately voted to have the report released.

The House of Representatives, in mid-March, voted 420–0 to release the report—a display of bipartisanship that itself typically exists, these days, merely in imagine if terms. On Tuesday, however, Trump described the ongoing calls to share the document as a “disgrace” and a “waste of time.”

That vote was a remarkable display of political unity. It is rare that every single representative in the House can unanimously agree about anything, much less something so politically dramatic and potentially explosive. I think it demonstrates the two completely separate tribal epistemologies of Democrats and Republicans. Although the vote was held shortly before the the Mueller investigation concluded, you could also see the same sort of tribal epistemology when the Barr report was issued. Partisan Democrats were crushed and shocked that Mueller didn’t bring down the President and they wanted the Mueller Report released because they were sure that we were being scammed. Their expectations had always been unrealistic, but that was their partisan dream.

Partisan Republicans were initially elated by the Barr report because they saw it as an exoneration. They had considered the investigation to be a partisan witch hunt and if even a witch hunt had not at all damaged the president at its conclusion, then he must really be untouchable and we might as well release the full report. The House vote took place in that emotional context. Since then, they have become more cautious. Trump has subsequently said that the report should not be released, and loyal House Republicans have been less and less enthusiastic about its release compared with Democrats.  Now that the bill is at the Senate, Republicans have blocked it five times so far.

Republicans were happy that the investigation had concluded so much faster than previous investigations without indicting the president and they wanted the Mueller report released because Trump said it completely exonerated him and they tend to believe Trump.

(Note that this infographic was created only about half way through the Mueller investigation into the Russia scandal and there were many more indictments in the second half. It was by far the most productive investigation of a president in terms of criminal indictments per year.)

But Democrats shouldn’t raise their hopes too much. The investigation was initiated by Republicans in the Senate who hired a life-long Republican to lead it (Mueller) and it was supervised by a staunch Republican appointee of Donald Trump (Rosenstein). These Republicans were quite concerned about Trump’s behavior towards Russia, but they wanted to limit the investigation to that issue and the investigation was very narrowly focused on that issue in comparison with past investigations like the Starr investigation.  They were right to investigate Trump’s bizarre behavior towards Russia and his public admission that he was trying to obstruct the investigations of his top managers by getting rid of Comey, but Trump does a lot of unconventional things and anyone with such an erratic record is going to raise suspicions even if they are completely innocent of criminal intent.

After Trump unexpectedly won the election, congressional Republicans, particularly those who refused to endorse Trump during the campaign and several of whom proclaimed him unfit for office, could and should have joined Democrats in insisting that he set up his financial affairs in some kind of remotely acceptable way.

But they chose not to. They made no demands of Trump, and then they made no effort to force transparency onto any of it. From the campaign through the transition until today, corporations, wealthy individuals, and foreign governments have had multiple channels by which they can secretly funnel cash to the president and his family, and congressional Republicans have said nothing and done nothing about it.

What they did have a problem with is the Russia policy Trump outlined during the campaign. And because of that policy dispute, congressional Republicans were willing to support an investigation into the Russia matter — in the form of a bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee report and then later in an FBI probe that became a special counsel inquiry. This was in part to create leverage to try to force Trump into hewing to a more orthodox policy course. Republican Russia hawks have not been 100 percent successful in this regard, but the United States did not pull out of NATO, recognize Russian annexation of Crimea, cut off aid to Ukraine, greenlight an invasion of Estonia, or any of a dozen other things Trump has hinted from time to time that he favors.

Other avenues of investigation into allegations that Trump is a sexual predator or a fraud or a tax cheat or an all-around crook were of less interest to Republicans, so they were not pursued. Trump opponents would convince themselves from time to time that Mueller was pursuing them, but as best we can tell, that’s not the case.

…There was, of course, ample precedent for this in the form of Ken Starr’s wildly unethical investigation during the Bill Clinton years that was originally supposed to be about the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas. Starr never came close to showing that Clinton did anything wrong related to that deal. But his office — staffed with partisan Republican hotshots like Brett Kavanaugh — became an all-purpose clearinghouse for Clinton investigations. They looked into everything under the sun. They leaked information, selectively, to the press and to Congress. Their aim was to bring down Clinton by any means within the law, not to produce a thorough report about a land deal.

In theory, the Russia investigation could have been pursued this way. And, in fact, an inquiry of this sort would have made a lot more sense than Starr leaping from a land deal to a sexual harassment case to an exploitative affair with an intern. To really understand Trump’s “links” to Russia, you need to understand his finances. To get a full picture of his finances, you need to take a thorough look at every shady deal he’s involved with. And once you’re doing that, you might uncover Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations, money laundering violations, tax violations, and who knows what else. Trump has never been a particularly scrupulous businessman. A wide-ranging investigation could reveal any number of bad acts.

Mueller seems to have scrupulously avoided broadening his investigation beyond the narrow question of whether Trump was secretly compromised by Russian agents and although Mueller couldn’t avoid discovering related Trump-world corruption such as the evidence that led to Michael Cohen’s indictment, Mueller avoided getting involved in other issues and he handed off that kind of evidence to the ordinary bureaucracy of the criminal justice system. So Democrats still shouldn’t get their hopes up. The Mueller Report is undoubtedly embarrassing or Barr would have released more than 101 words, but even if he releases a lot more, say 100 times more of the report–that would still only be 20 pages of the report (if it is typed single-spaced) and it probably won’t be significantly more embarrassing than the scandals Michael Cohen revealed.

Most Trump supporters haven’t cared about Trump’s scandals so far.  So more scandals won’t change much of anything.  Trump’s base is blindly loyal.  As Trump himself said, “The polls, they say I have the most loyal people. Did you ever see that? Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, okay? It’s like incredible.”

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Posted in Pence2018

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