By: Connor McNairn, Columnist
In May 2017, just a few short months after President Donald Trump assumed the presidency, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was commissioned by the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate potential collusion between the Russian government and Trump’s presidential campaign. And in June 2017, the scope of Mueller’s investigation was expanded as obstruction of justice allegations against Trump gained greater national attention.
To many, the Mueller report has served as a point of consistent political leverage. Congressional Democrats, for example, have used the existence of Mueller’s investigation to undermine Trump at every turn. Given that Trump had so little time to serve as president before the investigation began, his opponents have used its looming threat to wholly delegitimize the commander-in-chief.
But on Friday, March 22, to the relief of both sides of the political aisle, Mueller submitted his final report to the Department of Justice and, ultimately the principal arbiter of justice in this case, Attorney General (AG) William Barr.
To the American public, who have been bombarded with hot takes from both conservative and liberal pundits alike, Mueller’s finalized report provided little political closure. Most notably, Mueller’s report remains private, and the only individuals who have had a chance to read it are AG Barr – who has publicly defended the president against obstruction of justice questioning – and his team at the Justice Department.
After reading Mueller’s findings, which the New York Times reported as being over 300 pages long, the Attorney General issued a brief, 4-page long collection of his “principal conclusions” from the Mueller report.
And as is so often the case, Barr’s conclusions were, at best, excruciatingly vague.
According to Barr’s principal conclusions, Mueller found no evidence that Trump, or any of his political aides, actively colluded with the Russian Federation during the 2016 campaign. To Trump and a large contingent of his base, such findings “totally exonerate” the president. Except that, also in Barr’s conclusions, the Attorney General explicitly states that Trump is not exonerated by the Mueller report.
It comes as no surprise that Trump would consistently gloat of his “total exoneration” when his own Attorney General has explicitly argued to the contrary.
The matter that now dominates the public discourse concerns when, or even if, the American people will have the opportunity to read the report.
On Saturday, AG Barr announced that “everyone will soon be able to read [the report].” Allegedly, the findings will be made public by mid-April. But such a promise does not specify the degree to which Mueller’s original text will be incorporated or redacted in the publicized version.
Sensitive information that may be categorized as classified, for example, will be unavailable for release. And to many Democrats, given that redactions may eliminate some of the most critical information in the report, AG Barr’s promise still smells of a cover-up.
Earlier this month, the House of Representatives passed a stunningly bipartisan measure that demanded the public release of the full Mueller report (in a 420 to 0 vote). Moreover, according to NPR, three-quarters of Americans – an overwhelming majority – also demand the report’s public release. As its release grows more probable in the coming weeks, congressional Democrats will likely use its public contents to further criticize the Trump administration and ponder its redacted content.
In short, now that Mueller has finalized his conclusions, the political fight revolving around Trump, Russian collusion and the president’s alleged attempts at obstruction is just getting started.