President Donald Trump and his defenders are understandably exulting now that the Justice Department has released a summary of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s principal conclusions about his investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election. But, all too characteristically, the president is portraying the findings as a “total exoneration.” It’s no such thing.
The summary of Mueller’s conclusions came in a letter Attorney General William Barr sent to Congress. According to Barr, Mueller did not establish that the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with” the Russian government or a Russian “troll farm” in two operations: a social-media disinformation campaign launched by Internet Research Agency and the hacking of Democratic email accounts and release of embarrassing emails via WikiLeaks.
That’s a victory for the president. It’s also good news for the country. Even Trump’s critics should welcome a finding that the president and his officials didn’t break the law by conspiring with Russians to subvert the election.
But Trump wasn’t content to welcome this finding. On Twitter he suggested that Mueller’s message was “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.”
In fact, Mueller didn’t absolve the president of obstructing justice. Instead, according to Barr, Mueller “did not reach a conclusion — one way or the other” about whether actions by Trump constituted obstruction. Barr quoted Mueller as saying: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein then made their own quick determination that the evidence that Mueller amassed over two years wasn’t enough to establish that Trump committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.
These contrasting perspectives, as well as other as-yet unanswered questions, are a reminder that it is absolutely vital that Congress — and the public — be given access to Mueller’s complete report, with only minimal redactions to protect legitimate national security secrets.
That Mueller cleared the Trump campaign of colluding criminally with Russia doesn’t mean his investigation was a “witch hunt” or that people in Trump’s orbit didn’t engage in questionable contacts with Russians. The guilty pleas and convictions obtained by Mueller belie that.
And, of course, the end of Mueller’s investigation doesn’t mean other investigations related to the Trump campaign — including those underway in the Southern District of New York — won’t uncover information about criminal activity by Trump or his aides.
It isn’t second-guessing Mueller to insist that Congress and the public receive access to his complete report, not just the snippets that appeared in Barr’s letter. There is a long list of reasons why we think Trump is unfit for the presidency and dangerous for the country. The only thing we learned from Barr’s summary is that colluding with Russia is no longer on it.
— Los Angeles Times