GELFAND’S WORLD--The Trump administration and the right wing are falling all over themselves in crowing about Trump's exoneration by Robert Mueller as handed down by Attorney General William Barr through his four-page letter.
Based on what conservative media personalities are saying, you might think that Mueller is saying that Trump has been clean as a whistle all along.
A different set of observers beg to differ.
Mark Sumner, writing in Daily Kos, remarks, "The Barr letter is not the Mueller report -- it's a gift to Donald Trump."
Here's Marcy Wheeler, writing for the New Republic in an article titled Yes, Trump obstructed justice. And William Barr is helping him cover it up. You can read it for yourselves, but I'll refer to a conclusion Wheeler reaches about Barr's logic or lack thereof:
"In giving Trump the all-clear on obstruction charges, Barr appears not to have considered whether Trump obstructed the actual crime in question. He instead considered whether the president obstructed a different crime. This is the legal sleight of hand that has allowed Barr to proclaim that Trump will not be charged.
"The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee now has abundant reason to get all the underlying materials from the Mueller inquiry, because the attorney general just cleared the president of something he agreed constituted a crime just a few months ago."
Wheeler's article is worth reading, particularly if you want to follow her reasoning as to the strength (or weakness) of Barr's case.
* * *
It's not correct to say that the Mueller report has been released. It's been completed, and it's been delivered from one secure place (the Special Counsel) to another, possibly not-so-secure place (the office of the Attorney General). We've received a carefully composed sort-of-summary. But what does Mueller's report actually say? We don't actually know for sure. We have some main points which include some cherry picked claims. Other than that, we don't have a lot.
If you take the time to read Barr's letter, it's obvious that Mueller must have presented the case for charging the president with obstruction of justice, but due to the legal and political difficulties, deferred to the Attorney General and the congress as to what needs to be done. Was there evidence, but maybe if you squinted real hard, viewed it just right, it would look a little thin perhaps? That's what seems to come out in Barr's language referring to the need to prove crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. Just to pun a bit, the Barr bar is a pretty low bar for considering someone's qualifications to be president, as opposed to the established requirements for throwing somebody in the slammer.
* * *
Here's Barr's own words: ""Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have determined that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense."
In other words, Trump didn't get caught. The wording indicates that there is evidence but it's not of the smoking gun quality that would have forced Barr to surrender to established fact.
We're left in the same speculative limbo that we were in last week, except for that blockbuster about failing to prove collusion.
* * *
The preliminary take-home lesson for the liberal side is that the resistance is more necessary than ever. Trump is still extremely dangerous.
The best proof in the past 72 hours is the person (Stephen Moore) who is being proposed for the Federal Reserve board. It's a difficult day indeed when economists and finance professionals across the whole spectrum are aghast and frightened by the choice.
Moore joins a long list of similarly unprofessional ultra-partisan intellectual lightweights who have caught Trump's attention either by guesting on Fox or by writing a sycophantic op ed.
* * *
Adam Schiff was in town a few days ago and gave a quietly rousing interview to a supportive crowd. On the issue of the Mueller investigation (unreleased as of the time of the discussion) Schiff focused in on the story of the Moscow Trump Tower. As Schiff summarized the issue, Trump and his family had a lot of money to gain (hundreds of millions of dollars) should the deal go through, and therefore had a strong incentive throughout the campaign to remain friendly with Vladimir Putin. As Schiff managed to insinuate, Trump continues to have that incentive to stay on friendly terms with dictators of countries where his next project might take shape.
Schiff reminded the audience that the investigation of Trump began not as a criminal investigation, but as a counterintelligence investigation. This is worth remembering.
(Bob Gelfand writes on science, culture, and politics for CityWatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)