After 22 months of investigation, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has submitted his report about potential involvement of the Trump presidential campaign in the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 elections. The investigation divided Republicans and Democrats over the past two years. President Donald Trump has repeatedly called it a “witch hunt” and “presidential harassment." On the other side of the aisle, many hailed Mueller as a man with impeccable credentials and expected that he will deliver justice — and perhaps end the Trump presidency.
Two days after the report was released, Attorney General William Barr sent Congress a four-page letter summarizing the main conclusions of the report. According to the letter, Mueller did not find evidence for collusion and could not draw a conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice. Those on the left who saved bottles of champagne for this day were immensely disappointed. Trump, still claiming that the investigation was a witch hunt, called the letter a complete and total exoneration.
One thing is clear: the Trump-Russia saga is far from over. Congressional Democrats are going to continue their investigations and a fight for the full release of the report is underway.
Pundits, columnists, and cartoonists responded to Barr’s letter and the information about the content of the Mueller report.
Brian Beutler of Crooked Media, a company founded by former Obama staffers, argues that Barr’s letter to Congress is a misleading attempt to exonerate Trump. Beutler argues that aside of informing that Mueller did not recommend charges related to conspiring with Russia, the Barr letter isn’t very revealing: “But beyond that we know little more today than we knew last week. We don’t know what Mueller uncovered as he investigated the campaign, whether he considered charging campaign associates, and, if so why he ultimately decided against it.” Beutler calls for a full release of the report.
Charles Blow of the New York Times argues that the case against Trump is not a legal one, but a moral one: “The Mueller report is a cautionary tale. There are no magic bullets, no devastating facts, no pivotal events that can undo what Trump has wrought. Trumpism is bigger than Trump. It is a rebranding of a consistent and increasingly resurgent strand of white American anxiety about primacy, privilege and displacement.”
Will Bunch, the Inquirer’s national columnist, compares the Mueller report to Watergate, the famous scandal that lead to President Richard Nixon’s impeachment and ouster from office. “Forty-five years after Nixon’s downfall, we have a Congress that was too addicted to self-preservation to perform its basic function of executive oversight, a Beltway media too addicted to ratings (or Fox News’ weird power trip) to dig deeper, and a public too addicted to shouting at the TV or at each other on Twitter to do the hard work of demanding a better Congress, a better media — and a better president. And part of the problem, especially for those whose hearts and heads are in the right place, has been waiting for Bob Mueller to fix everything," Bunch writes.
Just because there is no smoking gun, doesn’t mean that President Trump’s behavior toward Russia and Putin hasn’t been extremely questionable, writes Trudy Rubin, the Inquirer’s world affairs columnist: “The Russia-related activities of campaign chief Paul Manafort, national security adviser Michael Flynn, Donald Jr., and others aides – which included suspicious meetings with Russians and possible KGB cutouts even before the Trump nomination - were more than enough to provoke legitimate concerns by the FBI. (And let’s not forget that Trump himself triggered the Mueller investigation by firing FBI chief James Comey whom he criticized for the FBI investigation of Russian meddling).”
According to Susan Glasser of the New Yorker, we did learn one thing from Barr’s letter: “But we do know something far more definitively now than we did at five o’clock on Friday afternoon, and it is big. It’s now clear that Trump’s impeachment and removal from office, at least on charges stemming from Mueller’s investigation, are not going to happen.”
Washington Post opinion writer Jennifer Rubin writes demands the release of the full report and admonished Barr: “However, in a major respect, Barr’s action in declaring no crime of obstruction is inexplicable. Because it is the Justice Department’s position that Trump cannot be indicted as a sitting president, there is no requirement — indeed, it is inappropriate — for Barr to weigh in. The job is up to Congress, according to Barr’s own department guidelines. Suspicions about Barr’s willingness to clear the president, based on a memo he wrote to the Justice Department before being nominated as attorney general, look well-founded.”
Now that the Mueller probe is over, Andrew C. McCarthy, senior fellow at the National Review, turns the light to the origins of the investigation: “we have endured a two-year ordeal in which the president of the United States was forced to govern under a cloud of suspicion — suspicion of being a traitor, of scheming with a foreign adversary to steal an election. This happened because the Obama administration — which opened the probe of the Trump campaign, and which opted to use foreign counterintelligence spying powers rather than give Trump a defensive briefing about suspected Russian infiltration of his campaign — methodically forced its suspicions about Trump into the public domain.” McCarthy writes that a call for a full release of the report should be accompanied with a call for a full release of all the documents that led to the investigation.
Kimberley Strassel, a Fox News contributor and member of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, calls the Mueller report not only an exoneration, but “a searing indictment of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as a reminder of the need to know the story behind the bureau’s corrosive investigation.” She argues that the time is now to dig into the missteps of former FBI director James Comey, who was fired by Trump in May 2017.
In the Atlantic, Ken Starr, the special prosecutor who investigated President Bill Clinton and gave Congress a 445-page report that included intimate sexual details about Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, argues that the report doesn’t need to become public: “Prosecutors either seek an indictment, or remain quiet.” According to Starr, the regulations that govern special prosecutors prosecutors don’t require a report. “In short, there may be no Mueller report at all, save for the confidential document that lands on Barr’s desk. And these same regulations do not require the attorney general to simply pass along a confidential report that may very well contain unflattering information about one or more individuals. Including the president.”
It is undeniable that expectations on the left have been very high.