The Creep Wins If You Only Focus On Mueller’s Performance

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post says what needs to be said about the Mueller hearings. Quote:

“After totally unplugging and being out of the country for 23 days, watching President Trump’s gloat-o-rama in the wake of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s halting testimony on Wednesday was like turning on a soap opera after 20 years. Same plot. Same script. Same actors. But being away from Twitter, the perpetual American news cycle and the insane pendulum ride that is the Trump presidency gave me some much-needed perspective.

The reaction to Mueller’s testimony brings a key lesson to light. If y’all are focused on the 74-year-old lifelong Republican’s performance rather than the substance of what he actually said, you’re playing Trump’s game on Trump’s turf. Here are three of the bombshells from Mueller:

  1. The Russians are still interfering in U.S. politics. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller told congressional lawmakers.
  2. The FBI is still engaged in a counterintelligence investigation. When pressed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) about how his report did not address false statements made by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller said, “I cannot get into that mainly because there are many elements of the FBI looking at that issue.” Notice the present tense? Krishnamoorthi did and asked, “Currently?” To which Mueller replied, “Currently.”
  3. The Mueller report does not exonerate the president on charges of obstruction of justice. “The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), using a $50 word (exculpated) to say the president was not declared not guilty of obstruction of justice.

The first two points are clarion calls for us to pay attention to things that are happening in the here and now that we’re not paying attention to because of Trump’s distraction industrial complex over at the White House. The third point is bound to have folks dismiss it because it’s something we already knew. And while that might be true, it’s always good to have the words said out loud again, since most folks haven’t read the 448-page Mueller report.

Since the start of Trump’s candidacy four years ago, we know that optics mean everything to Trump. How someone looks, how he or she sounds is paramount to the man who views every day as an episode of the “Apprentice” scripted television franchise that made everyone think he was a successful businessman instead of the grifter he really is. What should be important to all of us is that the world heard (again) that the Russians continue to undermine our democracy, that the Trump campaign was not averse to accepting Russian help in the 2016 presidential election and actively sought to cover up its actions, and that there was convincing evidence the president of the United States obstructed justice. And those are just some of the things that were discussed at the hearings.

On a related note

The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, blocked two election security measures yesterday, arguing that Democrats are trying to give themselves a “political benefit” (i.e. the opportunity to have a fair election without foreign interference in 2020).

The Mueller Hearings Condensed To Hardly Any Time At All

The president is a criminal, millions who maybe weren’t sure have been exposed to the truth, but as theater, the hearings weren’t compelling on the whole, so lots of savvy journalists weren’t impressed. What garbage.

Adam Schiff lays it out in less than five minutes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlkNArJ-mew

Jerry Nadler does the same in less than two:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAmw24yEJ10

It’s an excellent day to make a call or visit your representative’s website, even if you’ve already done it.

Your country needs your help.

Last Words For Now On That Situation

From Victoria Bassetti, a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice:

Eighty-eight words. That’s all we have of the Mueller report. After 22 months of near-total silence, Robert Swan Mueller, III, has spoken — just not to us. Last Friday, he submitted a report of unknown length on his investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election to Attorney General William Barr [NOTE: It’s reported to be more than 300 pages long, in fact, apparently longer than required by the Special Counsel statute]. Barr in turn has deigned to make public a few extracts of the report, sprinkling a bit of it into his own letter to Congress.

The crux of the Mueller report, as conveyed by Barr, lies in two sentences. The first, that the investigation “did not establish” that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government. As to whether the president obstructed justice when he tried to derail the investigation, Mueller notes that  “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

With his feral flair for spin, President Donald Trump moved quickly to ignore the actual conclusions and market the Barr letter with its grand total of 88 words from Mueller as a “complete and total exoneration.” Or as one Twitter wag put it: “Classic Trumpian paradigm: ‘I got away with it = I didn’t do it.’”

Pay particular attention to two of Mueller’s phrases: “did not establish” and “did not exonerate.” Lawyers will know that those two phrases actually hint at the opposite of a complete Trump vindication. The first suggests that there was in fact some proof — just not enough to establish criminal wrongdoing beyond a reasonable doubt. We do not know how much evidence Mueller uncovered, but his wording intimates more than the bare minimum. Otherwise, he would have simply said there was no case to be made. He is, after all, a famously direct and to the point man. As for “did not exonerate,” that’s as close as a prosecutor gets to saying, “You were in the wrong, but we can’t convict.”

All told, the small parts of the Mueller report that peak out from Barr’s letter suggest difficulty building a criminal case but nothing even close to a clean bill of health. That’s why releasing the full Mueller report is so important. While the headline is clear — no more indictments — the details matter enormously. It’s not far different from a visit to the emergency room where an ER doctor tells you: “No, you’re not having a heart attack right now but look at that cholesterol level, artery blockage, shortness of breath, and, oh there’s a spot on the X-ray.” Great to learn about no heart attack; not smart to walk out before hearing the rest of the diagnosis.

Mueller’s eighty-eight words of consultation filtered through a second party are not enough. And the need for a comprehensive account of what the investigation found has only been made more urgent by President Trump’s recent series of attacks on the very idea of the investigation. On Sunday he called the investigation “an illegal takedown that failed.” The following day he threatened retaliation. “There are people out there who have done very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country. And hopefully, people that have done such harm to our country — we’ve gone through a period of really bad things happening — those people will certainly be looked at,” the president said.

Full disclosure of the Mueller report would reveal whether a host of concerns — about Russian attacks on our election system, Russian efforts to infiltrate and work with the Trump campaign, the campaign’s response to those efforts, and finally Trump’s efforts to pervert the administration of justice for his own purposes — were valid or not.

A decision on when and how much of the report to release rests in the hands of Barr — who is also, presumably, the man on the receiving end of the president’s demand to investigate the investigators. During his confirmation hearings earlier this year, Barr told senators that his goal with regard to the Mueller report “will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.” A larger challenge lies before him: to provide as much transparency as he can for the health of our democracy.

From the “What A Day” newsletter at Crooked Media:

The deadline six House committee chairs set for Attorney General William Barr to turn over Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report is April 2, but Barr has already informed House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler that he’ll miss the deadline. Barr also will not commit to providing Congress the full report, and only provided Nadler the report’s official page count on the condition that he not share the number publicly. 

Nearly a week after Mueller submitted his report, all we know about it, beyond what’s in Barr’s highly political three-and-a-half page summary, is that it is somewhere between 300 and 1000 pages long.

This is an unacceptable state of affairs, and it’s past time for House Democrats to use their official powers to either obtain the report itself, make its details public, or get some answers from the Justice Department.

Here’s what Democrats can do.

  • Subpoena the report. This is the most obvious step they can and presumably will take, but it would likely tee up lengthy legal battles over what the administration has a right to withhold. On the other hand, the threat of a subpoena might allow Democrats to secure a public and airtight commitment from Barr to share the entire report minus the narrowest omissions (say, to protect ongoing investigations) by a specific date.
  • Subpoena Mueller. There has been a lot of chatter about Barr’s forthcoming testimony to Congress, but he has already revealed himself to be an unreliable narrator. Mueller remains widely trusted, but he can’t speak out of turn. Subpoenaing him would unshackle him, personally, and leave it to the administration to decide whether to silence him—but by silencing him, they’d give up the game.
  • Begin impeachment proceedings. House leadership has made clear that Democrats are terrified of impeachment, but that may be the only way they can successfully secure Mueller’s grand jury materials, which are otherwise bound by strict secrecy requirements. That’s what happened during Watergate, and it should be on the table today.
  • Lose their shit. It sounds silly, but a sustained Democratic message that the administration is hiding something, and that they must release the full report might just work better than anything else. Last year, Republicans generated days of anticipation by making the Twitter hashtag #ReleaseTheMemo go viral. This was about an absurd, conspiracy theory-ridden document that their own party wrote, but they were able to create a widespread sense that the government was hiding something explosive from the public. That’s what’s actually happening now, and Dems shouldn’t shy away from building public pressure.

The Democratic toolbox also includes holding Barr and other officials in contempt of Congress and threatening to withhold funds from certain Justice Department components or programs. But the key is to demonstrate that concealing Mueller’s findings is unacceptable, and they won’t get away with quietly burying it. Asking nicely, which has been the Democrats’ disappointing approach to oversight thus far, will not suffice here.

Today, Republicans on the House intelligence committee publicly called upon the committee’s chairman, Adam Schiff, to step down at a hearing that was supposed to be about whether President Trump’s business negotiations with Moscow—which he lied about throughout the campaign and well into his presidency—left him compromised.

Schiff’s response was to deliver Republicans the shaming they deserve. 

Hopefully this is a lesson Democrats will heed about who they’re dealing with. When they returned to power, Democrats set about trying to restore comity on their committees, after enduring years of Republican abuse. They were not rewarded for their kindness because Republicans understand that they’re not there to make friends. [End quote]

Personal Postscript:

#ReleaseTheReport

It’s Not Over At All

From attorney George Conway:

Attorney General William Barr’s letter revealed something unexpected about the obstruction issue: that Mueller said his “report does not conclude that the President committed a crime” but that “it also does not exonerate him.” The report does not exonerate the president? That’s a stunning thing for a prosecutor to say. Mueller didn’t have to say that. Indeed, making that very point, the president’s outside counsel, Rudolph W. Giuliani, called the statement a “cheap shot.”

But Mueller isn’t prone to cheap shots; he plays by the rules, every step of the way. If his report doesn’t exonerate the president, there must be something pretty damning in it about him, even if it might not suffice to prove a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. And in saying that the report “catalogu[ed] the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view,” Barr’s letter makes clear that the report also catalogues actions taken privately that shed light on possible obstruction, actions that the American people and Congress yet know nothing about.

At the same time, and equally remarkably, Mueller, according to Barr, said he “ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” regarding obstruction. Reading that statement together with the no-exoneration statement, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mueller wrote his report to allow the American people and Congress to decide what to make of the facts. And that is what should — must — happen now.

From columnist Greg Sargent:

One glaring analytical error we’re seeing in the coverage of Robert S. Mueller III’s findings is the idea that we’re suddenly in a “post-Mueller” political world. The suggestion is that there’s been a sudden, clean break from a rapidly receding past in which the special counsel’s activity threatened President Trump, to a new future in which it does not.

The reality is quite different. In fact, while Mueller’s no-conspiracy finding does close one chapter of this affair, the Mueller probe and its spinoffs added substantial new material to the building case against Trump’s corruption, and they have spawned other investigations that will keep that process moving forward….

Because of all these investigations and their consequences, Trump has been implicated in a criminal hush-money scheme…  We have also learned from Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen that Trump may have gamed his assets for insurance and tax fraud purposes — and that clues to these potential crimes may lie in his tax returns. Cohen also says those returns might shed light on his family’s extensive history of tax fraud.

All that has led to a plethora of other investigations into multiple Trump organizations, which largely grew out of the Mueller investigation. Some of what we learned has created new avenues of inquiry for House Democrats, who are looking into everything from Trump’s role in the hush-money scheme, to whether Trump’s lawyers coached Cohen to lie to Congress about his Moscow project, to his financial entanglements with Russia…. 

Given that the White House is resisting all Democratic subpoena requests — something that we should remember in tandem with likely Trump efforts to keep Mueller’s findings buried — it’s hard to say where all this will end up. But one thing that’s clear is that the focus on Trump’s corruption will continue to intensify and broaden.

The emerging narrative is that demoralized Democrats are debating how to “move on” from Mueller. But Democrats don’t have to get drawn into that debate. That’s because the Mueller probe and its spinoffs have actually made the political terrain a lot more fertile for the focus on Trump’s corruption than before. And the ongoing ripple effects of those investigations will continue to do so.

For example, in one development today:

House Oversight Committee Chair Rep. Elijah Cummings has requested ten years of documents related to President Donald Trump’s past financial dealings….

The request comes after testimony from Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, raised questions as to whether Trump inflated or deflated the value of his financial assets during the course of past business transactions….Cohen said that Trump would inflate his total assets in order to obtain more favorable treatment from banks (in addition to deflating his assets in order to reduce his tax burden).

In his letter to [tax and accounting firm] Mazars LLP, Cummings requested “all statements of financial condition, annual statements, periodic financial reports and independent auditors’ reports.” He also asked for “all engagement agreements or contracts related to the preparation, compilation, review, or auditing of the items” used to determine Trump’s net worth—specific, it appears, to his use of brand value to inflate that net worth. 

And this:

The head of the House Intelligence committee wants to know if [the completion of the Special Counsel’s inquiry into potential criminal conspiracy regarding Russia] means the FBI’s counterintelligence probe into the same question has also concluded.

Rep. Adam Schiff [announced] that he’s begun negotiations with the intelligence agencies to get an answer to one of the many unknowns about the Mueller probe currently hidden behind the veil of Attorney General William Barr’s letter on Sunday purporting to summarize it.

“At this point, we don’t know whether any of the counterintelligence findings are part of the Mueller report,” Schiff said. “We have initiated discussions with the intelligence community to make sure that we obtain whatever is found in the counterintelligence investigation, or whether that [inquiry] is still ongoing.”

In January, The New York Times, citing in part the FBI’s former top lawyer, James Baker, reported that the bureau opened a counterintelligence inquiry into Trump’s ties to Russia in May 2017 after the president fired Director James Comey, who was then in charge of the overall Russia probe. Mueller, soon empaneled as special counsel, inherited that investigation.

Current and former FBI and Justice Department officials have characterized a counterintelligence probe into a sitting president—with its implication that the president, wittingly or not, posed a threat to national security — as unprecedented…. 

The bureau’s counterintelligence investigations seek to understand the surreptitious activities of a foreign power and their possible connections to Americans. Since their objectives are not necessarily to bring charges, their standards of evidence are well below those of criminal inquiries. It is possible that Mueller closed the counterintelligence inquiry, and it is possible that Mueller passed it back to the FBI. Schiff wants to know either way.

Selected Comments on Evil and Rank Stupidity

As the worst people in America continue to run most of the federal government, here are a few choice comments from the Twitterverse.

First, from Michael Cohen, columnist for The Boston Globe:

A lot of crazy things have happened over the past 2.5 years … but that so many people are simply accepting the conclusions of the Mueller report based on the word of an attorney general who wrote an unsolicited 19 page memo bashing Mueller’s probe might be the craziest.

The idea that any of us would take the word of Barr about the conclusions of Mueller’s report at face value, without seeing the underlying evidence, is practically surreal.

And don’t get me started on media criticisms: have we all just collectively forgotten that more than a dozen Trump campaign aides met with Russian officials and virtually all of them lied about it? Or that Trump repeatedly & flagrantly tried to interfere w/the investigation?

Were journalists simply supposed to ignore that? Were they supposed to ignore the fact that Trump’s son, campaign manager and son-in-law met with Russian officials promising dirt on Hillary Clinton (and lied about it) as if this wasn’t evidence of attempted collusion?

Do we all have collective amnesia over the president taking the word of Putin, repeatedly, over US Intel agencies on the question of Russian interference in the election?

Let’s be clear: none of know what Mueller found. None of us have seen the evidence. Until we do none of us know anything.

Next, from Will Wilkinson, Vice President of Research at the Niskanen Center:

The crescendo of furious gaslighting following Barr’s propaganda summary suggests a plan was place to exploit the gap between the submission of the report and public revelation of what’s in it to delegitimize Mueller’s actual findings and the ongoing investigations.

Trump’s “one weird trick” is the shameless public delegitimization of anyone aligned against his interests.

Our idiot media still isn’t capable of understanding how to not be co-opted by Trump’s reality-bending propaganda machine, and continues to get played like a burgled Stradivarius.

Barr’s cover-up gambit means Mueller will certainly be called to testify under oath in the House.

That’s why we’re getting the full-on blitz to mischaracterize his findings: to lock the media and public into a favorable narrative nowhere in evidence, before he actually speaks.

The media’s atrocious gullibility, which is letting this happen without serious resistance, is even more scandalous than the credulity that herded public opinion behind the invasion of Iraq. Because we already *know* this administration does nothing but lie.

The Trump machine is making a lot of political hay with necessary legal distinctions. Barr says Mueller didn’t establish conspiracy or coordination between the campaign & “the Russian government,” which doesn’t imply there wasn’t plenty with Russians hard to pin as agents of Putin.

Barr says Mueller supplies evidence of obstruction, then uses the fact that he doesn’t establish conspiracy to a certain legal standard (which doesn’t at all rule it out, in fact) to argue in a shady way that there was nothing to obstruct, so he let’s Trump off scot-free.

Trump has gone to pains to confuse people into accepting that the legitimacy of congressional oversight depends on a prior, narrow legal finding of criminality, which it has done everything it can to prevent. 

Trump’s hand-picked AG (confirmed by a lapdog Senate, with a record of shielding presidents from scandal) telling us what the report says & sitting on it doesn’t settle anything. But spinning it like it does to prevent congressional oversight tell us a lot. This is far from over.

From Julian Zelizer, Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University:

This week is starting to remind me of the 2000 presidential election. This is what I was thinking.

Republicans declare victory before the results are actually in.

Republicans count on the national media to quickly repeat their conclusion. Pack journalism gets to work.

When serious concerns emerge about the results, Republicans stand by the initial declaration of victory.

Meanwhile, charge that Democrats are being “sore losers” by asking legitimate questions about what is going on.

The GOP then tries to force an ending to the controversy by running out the clock.

After the Supreme Court stops the Florida recount in December 2000, Republicans act like there is a clear mandate and national consensus about the results. Never look back.

From Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent for The Week:

The discourse around this report has revolved far too much around who gets to gloat about making correct predictions, and whether the media exaggerated this or that, which risks letting the content of the report get lost in the noise. Better by far to focus on the actual facts at hand, which are not at all favorable for Trump.

Contrary to many blaring news headlines, the quoted sentence of the report does not say there was no evidence of coordination, but that it “did not establish” it. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, as the lawyer saying goes.

The Trump administration’s approach here — carried out in concert with Attorney General Barr — is pretty clearly to try to muddy the waters around the Mueller findings to make it appear as though Trump is completely free of sin.

In reality, just what is publicly known about the Mueller investigation is incredibly damning. A foreign government interfered with a U.S. election, the Republican candidate embraced it, and the rest of the party leadership connived to prevent bipartisan action to stop it.

Seven Trump or Republican associates, including Trump’s campaign manager, national security adviser, and personal lawyer, have been convicted of various felonies in the biggest white-collar crime investigation in years, and another is on trial.

Finally, from Michelle Goldberg, columnist for The New York Times:

The media’s biggest failure in Russiagate is letting Trump get away with pretending to be exonerated by a four-page letter from Trump’s own AG that quotes Mueller saying his report “does not exonerate him.”

Add the Evil to the Rank Stupidity and It’s Even Worse

Where to begin?

From NPR: In a significant shift, the Trump administration says the entirety of the Affordable Care Act should be struck down in the courts. Previously, the administration had pushed to remove the law’s protections for people with pre-existing conditions but had not argued in court that the whole law should be struck down.

The change was announced in a two-sentence letter from the Department of Justice to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said that the ruling made in December by a district court judge in Texas “should be affirmed.” In that case, District Judge Reed O’Connor declared the ACA unconstitutional. He ruled that a 2017 change in federal tax law eliminating the penalty on uninsured people invalidated the entire health care law.

From The Washington Post: At the Casa Ismael clinic for HIV-positive men with severe health complications, the staff used to immediately change patients’ diapers after they were soiled. But last week, [the] clinic administrator … told the nurses that had to stop. To save money, the nonprofit clinic, which relies on its patients’ food-stamp money for funding, will ask patients to sit in diapers in which they have repeatedly urinated, sometimes for hours.

The Casa Ismael clinic is short on funds in part because of cuts in food stamps that hit about 1.3 million residents of Puerto Rico this month — a new crisis for an island still struggling from the effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017….

A senior administration official with direct knowledge … described Trump’s stance: “He doesn’t want another single dollar going to the island.”

Meanwhile, the nonsense continues:

From columnist Greg Sargent: Have we really learned nothing from the first two years of the Trump presidency?

Welcome to the new narrative: President Trump and Republicans are “turning the tables” and going “on offense” against Democrats and the media, who, we are told, should be groveling for forgiveness in the wake of Attorney General William P. Barr’s brief summary of the special counsel’s Russiagate conclusions.

Unfortunately, there are scattered signs that some in those quarters are taking this far too seriously. We’re seeing news accounts suggesting media coverage of the Russia scandal may have overreached; columnists demanding introspection from journalistic colleagues; and analyses that overestimate the degree to which Trump can now claim victory over Democrats. Some accounts hintat angst among Democrats about how aggressive an investigative posture to strike going forward.

It’s amazing this needs to be stated, but here goes. This “new offensive” from Trump and Republicans is saturated with nonsense from top to bottom, and it is designed to get the media to back off of its entirely legitimate scrutiny of Trump, and to get Democrats to retreat from their entirely legitimate efforts to impose oversight and accountability.

Trump has spent the past two years screaming “WITCH HUNT!” and “FAKE NEWS!,” even as he and his congressional allies have absurdly cast the investigations as corrupt based on one fake “scandal” after another. Throughout all this, what’s actually happened is that one revelation after another has emerged detailing startling criminality among those in Trump’s inner circle and extraordinary corruption and abuses of power by Trump himself.

Much of the current discussion and journalistic handwringing has the effect of badly downplaying the significance of what has emerged in the past two years, and the potential for more damaging information to emerge. And it doesn’t adequately reckon with the rot of bad faith at the core of what’s driving this new “turn the tables” offensive — an effort to chill continued efforts to unearth that information, through legitimate scrutiny and oversight. We know this, because we’ve seen it for two years.

Remember: All we know about the Special Counsel’s report is what the president’s hand-picked Attorney General has said about it. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t exonerate the president regarding obstruction of justice. Otherwise, the Attorney General’s letter would have said it did. Presumably, it’s true that the Special Counsel didn’t find enough evidence to say the president was part of a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government. We need to see the Mueller report now.

But we already know there was collusion between the campaign, various Russians and Wikileaks. That’s because, despite what the president and his defenders would like us to believe, “collusion” means “secret agreement or cooperation, especially for a DECEITFUL OR ILLEGAL purpose”. As the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee says, the evidence for collusion (and obstruction of justice) is “in plain sight”:

“There [is] a big difference between whether there was evidence of collusion — and I think that evidence is in plain sight — and whether you can establish proof beyond a reasonable doubt of a criminal conspiracy,” he told CNN.

Schiff also questioned whether Attorney General William Barr would be able to come to an unbiased conclusion about special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings.

“You have [an] attorney general who applied for the job by talking down any potential obstruction conviction or indictment who then went to a Senate confirmation and refused to recuse himself,” Schiff said. “He has now done the job he applied for, which is attempt to exonerate Mr. Trump. That ought to deeply concern people.”

Asked Schiff tonight if he would drop his probe after Mueller didn’t find a Trump-Russia conspiracy, and he said: “Our investigation has always focused on counterintelligence issues, that is, is the president or anyone around him compromised in some way. That work has to go on.”

Of course it does, and it will, despite the president’s absurd claim that he’s won a race that isn’t over.

Sometimes the Rank Stupidity Gets You Down

This is one of those times. Special Counsel Robert Mueller gives the results of his two-year investigation to the new Attorney General William Barr. Two days later, Barr issues a four-page letter that is supposed to summarize Mueller’s findings.

The letter mentions that Mueller found a significant amount of criminal activity and referred several items to other officials for further investigation, but gives the impression that the president himself didn’t do anything wrong. The president and his supporters declare total victory. No collusion after all! Millions absorb the headlines. Media figures blame their colleagues for giving Mueller’s investigation too much attention, for misleading the public, for being too tough on the president.

But it’s bullshit.

First, consider who wrote the letter and who concluded that Mueller didn’t find enough evidence of obstruction of justice. William Barr is a Republican lawyer who delivered an unsolicited 19-page memo to the Justice Department and the president’s lawyers in June, in which he argued that Mueller’s inquiry into obstruction of justice was “fatally misconceived”. Barr claimed that, given the nature of their authority, it’s extremely difficult for presidents to obstruct justice. He saw no reason to conclude that our current president committed a crime, even though the president tried in various ways to limit investigations into his own activities by, for example, firing the head of the F.B.I. Lo and behold, six months after Barr issues his memo, the president selects Barr to be his new Attorney General (after firing the previous Attorney General because he wasn’t sufficiently loyal).

Barr’s letter says another Republican official, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, agreed that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient. But last May, Rosenstein wrote a memo that purported to explain why the president fired the head of the F.B.I. He claimed James Comey’s dismissal had nothing to do with the Mueller investigation, even though the president admitted on national television that Comey was fired because of “this Russia thing”. Rosenstein now concludes that no obstruction of justice occurred, even though he played a questionable role in the president’s behavior that’s at issue.

Now consider the Barr letter itself. It helps a lot to pay close attention to the actual wording of a document like this, even though nuance doesn’t easily translate into headlines. My first impression was that Barr was making this argument. (1) Mueller didn’t find evidence that the President was part of a criminal conspiracy with the Russian government. (2) The president cannot be accused of interfering with an investigation if the investigation fails to find sufficient evidence of an actual crime. (3) Since we are not accusing the president of criminal conspiracy, we can’t accuse him of obstructing the investigation to see if said conspiracy occurred.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds fishy to me. But who knows? They say the law is an ass.

So it was good to see similar reactions to Barr’s letter. William Saletan offers a close reading of the letter at Slate. His article is called “Bill Barr’s Weasel Words”. Everyone who is interested in this fiasco should read his article. He highlights ten instances in which Barr’s language is suspicious or simply misleading. This may be the most important, since it underlies everything else:

“The Russian government.” … Mueller says his investigation didn’t prove that members of the Trump campaign “conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The sentence specifies Russia’s government. It says nothing about coordination with other Russians. Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, gave campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian associate who has been linked to Russian intelligence. Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., and Jared Kushner met secretly in Trump Tower with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Kremlin-connected lawyer. But neither Kilimnik nor Veselnitskaya is part of the Russian government….

(There were more than 100 meetings between campaign officials and various Russians. Everyone in the campaign, including the president, pretended that none of these meetings occurred.)

Saletan’s main conclusion is that the letter doesn’t show the president to be innocent. Instead, it shows that Attorney General Barr defined criminal behavior in such a way that it didn’t apply to what the president did.

Another article worth reading was written by Neal Katyal, a law professor who drafted the special counsel regulations under which Robert Mueller was appointed. His article is called “The Many Problems with the Barr Letter”. Here’s how it begins:

On Sunday afternoon, soon after Attorney General Bill Barr released a letter outlining the Mueller investigation report, President Trump tweeted “Total EXONERATION!” But there are any number of reasons the president should not be taking a victory lap.

First, obviously, he still faces the New York investigations into campaign finance violations by the Trump team and the various investigations into the Trump organization. And Mr. Barr, in his letter, acknowledges that the Mueller report “does not exonerate” Mr. Trump on the issue of obstruction, even if it does not recommend an indictment.

But the critical part of the letter is that it now creates a whole new mess. After laying out the scope of the investigation and noting that Mr. Mueller’s report does not offer any legal recommendations, Mr. Barr declares that it therefore “leaves it to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.” He then concludes the president did not obstruct justice when he fired the F.B.I. director, James Comey.

Such a conclusion would be momentous in any event. But to do so within 48 hours of receiving the report (which pointedly did not reach that conclusion) should be deeply concerning to every American.

The special counsel regulations were written to provide the public with confidence that justice was done. It is impossible for the public to reach that determination without knowing two things. First, what did the Mueller report conclude, and what was the evidence on obstruction of justice? And second, how could Mr. Barr have reached his conclusion so quickly?

Mr. Barr’s letter raises far more questions than it answers, both on the facts and the law.

As headline writers suggest that everything is rosy in Trump World, and the president pretends he’s been the victim all along, we need to keep in mind that we haven’t seen the actual Mueller report, we haven’t heard Barr and Mueller testify before Congress, and we don’t know how the many other investigations into the president’s activities and associates will turn out. It is way too soon for anyone to hold a parade in the president’s honor. This isn’t the end, it’s just the end of the beginning.