On Wednesday, President Trump surprised the gaggle of White House reporters waiting to see him depart for Ohio. When asked if Special Counsel Mueller’s report should be released to the American people, the president said, “I don’t mind. I mean frankly, I told the House, if you want, let them see it.”
The statement, which spread throughout the media like wildfire, was correct - and strange to hear from the president, given his repeated attacks on the investigation in general and Mueller specifically. But Trump quickly saddled the admission with asterisks.
First, he launched into a diatribe against the investigation, insisting that his electoral college victory somehow rendered it unnecessary and that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions never should have let it begin in the first place. The president complained that he and his voters “don’t get” why the report is even being written. But the rationale for the investigation has been clear from the start: Our intelligence agencies publicly and unanimously determined that Putin’s Russia interfered in our election to help candidate Trump best Hillary Clinton, and we need to know how that happened.
Second, Trump also indulged one of his classic moves: he passed the buck to someone else. In the middle of his answer, the president said that the report’s release is “up to the attorney general.” That is, to William Barr - who deliberately and repeatedly refused to commit to releasing said report during his confirmation hearing. President Trump may not be a chessmaster, but appointing a new attorney general to stop the results of an investigation your old attorney general failed to stop in the first place seems like a deliberate strategy.
And of course, there is the asterisk that is the president himself. He lies, continuously - about his own words and actions, about the words and actions of others, and about the effects of his proposals and the realities on the ground. Him saying one thing today is hardly a guarantee that he’ll hold the same position (or even admit he ever did) tomorrow.
All of this is immaterial to the fact that the special counsel’s report should be released. Deliberately and without fanfare, Mueller has been uncovering instances of wrongdoing and assembling a greater picture of how now-indicted Russian operatives worked to influence our election.
Along the way, he has also cracked down on foreign lobbying and financial crimes - both of which weaken our democracy and dilute the voices of the American people as we do the work of self governance. The investigation isn’t about proving the president guilty or innocent: It’s about the basic rule of law, and ensuring that only the people of the United States choose our elected leaders.
Those who suspect the president of wrongdoing should want it released for obvious reasons, but those inclined to believe him should too simply for the sake of clearing his name. The House recently passed, by a whopping 420-0 vote, a measure urging transparency around the investigation; a similar bipartisan measure could pass the Senate, if not for the obstruction of presidential lapdogs Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham.
At the end of the day, it’s in everyone’s interest for the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in our election to conclude. Russia has already shown a willingness to continue interfering in our democracy during the 2018 midterm elections, and there will be more to come in 2020 until we understand what happened, hold all involved accountable, and take steps to secure our democracy.
We the people deserve to read Mueller’s report, so let’s hope that remains the president’s position, even after he finds out what’s in it.
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 email@example.com.