“Complete and Total EXONERATION!” tweeted President Trump upon the release of Attorney General Barr’s summary of Special Counsel Mueller’s report. There’s just one problem: That’s not what the special counsel’s report says.
In fact, it’s not even what the summary says. While the attorney general made it clear that Mueller found no evidence of the Trump campaign directly colluding with the Russian government to affect the election, it also specifically quotes the special counsel saying his findings “do not exonerate” the president on the question of obstruction.
Unfortunately, far too many commentators are rushing to embrace the president’s narrative. The far right, eager to take advantage of this period of time where we don’t know the full contents of the report, is spiking the football. The fringe left has been strangely gleeful as well, always preferring the satisfaction of an “I told you so” over an actual political victory. And caught in the center, the hapless ‘mainstream media’ is giving bad faith criticism of its coverage of the Mueller investigation undue consideration - and gobbling up the White House’s talking points hook, line, and sinker.
But the truth of the matter is that we still don’t know what’s in Mueller’s report. According to CNN, it is more than 300 pages long; Barr’s summary clocks in at only four, with not a single sentence of Mueller’s findings quoted in full. Add to this the fact that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is blocking a resolution to demand transparency as well as a reminder that Barr attacked the special counsel for investigating obstruction even before he was hand-picked as attorney general, and it’s hard to argue there isn’t a cover up going on.
After all, we’ve seen obstruction happening in real time for the past two years thanks to President Trump. We saw him fire the FBI director and admit in a television interview that it was because of “this Russia thing.” We saw him bully his own attorney general repeatedly for failing to bend the Department of Justice to his will - or stop the investigation before it even started. We saw him deny Russian meddling in our election live on the world stage, right next to the Russian who meddled. And we saw him issue tweet after tweet attacking the Mueller investigation as it was happening.
But a robust defense of Mueller’s work shouldn’t stop there. It is true that, according to Barr’s summary, some legal standard for “collusion” wasn’t met. But Mueller still dissected how Russia attacked our democracy. He still identified multiple instances of Russians offering help to the Trump campaign, and the Trump campaign in turn taking their meetings, spreading their disinformation, and hyping their stolen materials. He still found very real and very active links between the president’s criminal campaign manager and Russian intelligence operatives. And he still uncovered millions of dollars worth of illegal activity along the way.
To wrap this all up with a quick 48 hour review and a wave of media coverage about how, actually, the president is the real victim in all this, does us all a disservice. And it will do nothing to keep Russia from interfering just as aggressively in the run-up to 2020.
Ultimately, all of this drives home why Barr must release the full report, and its underlying documentation, to Congress and the American people as soon as possible. To be sure, some redactions must be allowed for - the intelligence community must protect its sources, and grand jury information must stay concealed by law. But beyond that, we need all other information; another summary, or a version with pages upon pages of blacked out text, simply cannot be trusted.
Then, and only then, will we be able to make a full judgement about Mueller’s findings. And it will surely be a much more complicated conclusion than can fit in a 280-character presidential tweet.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at firstname.lastname@example.org.