Opinion: Don’t Lose Hope


Photo courtesy of Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Special Counsel Robert Mueller

On Friday March 22, Robert Mueller, the Special Counsel who had been investigating the President for coordination with Russia to influence the 2016 election and for obstruction of justice, submitted his report to the Justice Department. The report has been much anticipated by Democrats hoping for more evidence against the President; the most optimistic opponents of the President imagined Mueller flying in with a superhero cape, delivering his report, and flying away while impeachment hearings had already begun in the background.

The reality didn’t quite match this. Two days after Mueller submitted the report, Attorney General William Barr – who, prior to being nominated by the very President who is the subject of the investigation, wrote a nineteen page memo to the Justice Department discrediting the Mueller investigation and essentially claiming that presidents can’t be investigated for obstruction of justice – released a four page summary of Mueller’s findings. That summary explains that the report details possible cases of obstruction, but does not come to the conclusion that the obstruction is criminal. Importantly, in one sentence of the Mueller report that Attorney General Barr quotes, Mueller literally says that the report “also does not exonerate him” (The same day, Trump tweeted, “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION…”).

Because Mueller reportedly did not come to a conclusion, the Attorney General decided to take it into his own hands and conclude that the President did not obstruct justice because there wasn’t evidence that he committed a crime that he would be attempting to cover up in the obstruction process.

To break this down, let’s pretend that a student is being investigated for cheating. The teacher has the suspicious test as evidence, but once the student finds out they are being investigated, they steal the test and burn it. By Barr’s logic, the student couldn’t be punished for burning the test because there wasn’t established evidence that they cheated. As David Lurie of Slate explained, the adoption of this view on obstruction would provide vast incentive for people to obstruct justice because if they do it well enough, they would be in the clear. Not only is that obviously alarming, but it also seems to negate the very premise of process crimes like obstruction.

Barr’s summary of the report was treated like a massive victory for the President, at least partially because it didn’t bring the complete statement of guilt for which many were hoping. Some pundits and Twitter personalities made it out to be the end of any opposition to Trump. They seemed to be calling the election for him, twenty months early. This surrendered thinking has bled through the confines of Twitter and into our very own town. In the past week, I’ve had three conversations in which the other person sighed, “well, we’re doomed to another four years of this because now Trump is going to be reelected.”

If we were all to accept that Trump will be reelected and never campaign or do anything about it, then he probably would. But that is not a reality we have to accept! Although the fast pace of the news cycle can be a curse – as is seen by how people are currently forgetting about all of the crimes related to the Trump administration that we already have documented – it also means that we have no clue what will dominate headlines for the next year and a half.

Democrats also should not let themselves get frazzled and downcast by a four page summary written by Trump’s appointee of a report that’s somewhere between 300 and 999 pages. The past two years have shown that Trump and his cronies don’t hold the truth in high regard. We must not allow ourselves to be ruled by their spun version of reality in any context. It may be that Barr’s report is a fairly accurate representation of the relevant and important information in Mueller’s work, but without seeing the full report, we do not know. Trump opponents should not allow their motivation to be killed by any of this, but especially by four pages from Barr without the full picture.

We can’t allow the potential disappointment of this report and letter to hamper the energy and grit that it will take to win in 2020. Trump very well could win reelection, but it’s not a given. The outcome is not predetermined either way: it will largely be decided by what happens between now and next November 3. Don’t succumb to the gaslighting shown by the narrative that the Mueller investigation found nothing. The investigation has resulted in indictments for thirty-four individuals and three businesses with seven guilty pleas, including from Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort for conspiracy, from his personal lawyer Michael Cohen for lying to Congress, and from his national security advisor Michael Flynn for lying to the FBI. We also know that Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer to get information about Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.

This is not nothing, and it is not normal! As we head into the 2020 campaigns, do not lose sight of or outrage over all of the misconduct we know has occurred and treat reelection as neither an inevitability nor an impossibility.