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justice

Heavy Redaction Expected to Keep Mueller Report Secret

The attorney general is about to release a Mueller report to Congress that has undergone several layers of redaction. To get to where we are now, first the twists and turns of the three weeks since Mueller and cohort turned in their work, weeks in which "complete and total exoneration" has turned into something highly suspect and an attorney general accused of acting as President Trump's personal lawyer

Right off, the media was in for a drubbing. "A catastrophic media failure" by "the leading lights of journalism who managed to get the story so wrong, and for so long", wrote Federalist co-founder Sean Davis in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. "It wasn't merely an error here or there. America's blue-chip journalists botched the entire story, from its birth…to its final breath".

"It's official: Russiagate is this generation's WMD", wrote Matt Taibbi at the otherwise liberal Rolling Stone. "Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor [sic] Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media". Rich Lowry at National Review said, "Never has so little come of so many screaming chyrons. The last two years have been a disgrace".

Sean Hannity was "pissed off and so should the rest of the country be".

"The so-called mainstream media, so-called journalists, they should be embarrassed tonight, they should feel humiliated tonight, they should be apologizing tonight to the American people."

Even the The New York Times was contrite. An op-ed was headlined, "We Were All Seduced By Collusion". Columnist David Brooks' headline was "We've all just made fools of ourselves — again". Peter Baker, a lead reporter of the Trump administration, wrote on the front page that "It will be a reckoning…for the news media…Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up?”.



absolution

When Attorney General William Barr's summation letter was released, minimally quoting that Mueller's collected evidence "did not establish" that the Trump campaign "conspired or coordinated" with Russia, and that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime" of obstruction of justice, "it also does not exonerate him”, President Trump was triumphant. "There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, and none whatsoever and it was a complete and total exoneration", he declared on the tarmac returning from Mar-a-Lago.

"Complete and total exoneration" became Trump's immediate mantra, repeated endlessly, the "beautiful conclusion" of the report. His base would hear him saying that, and not the contrary wording of the Mueller report about obstruction, and it is a certainty that this distortion will be the rallying cry in his re-election campaign — that along with calling the "fake news media" the "enemy of the people" for having "promoted, and perpetuated the single greatest hoax in the history of politics in our country". He has gotten out in front of the actual report with that mantra so that once the details emerge at some later date, his followers will have moved on, indoctrinated against believing anything contradictory. As Taibbi wrote, "Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population".

"After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russia hoax is finally dead", he told the crowd at a Grand Rapids, Michigan, rally. "The collusion delusion is over".

grand illusion

The collusion theory "expired in an instant" with Barr's letter, said the lead editorial at the Journal. One would think that everything and everyone suggestive of collusion had been made to disappear in a puff of smoke, as if all turned up by the investigative media over the last two years was imagined. That must mean:

 That Gen. Mike Flynn, when designated national security adviser, did not meet with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak about eliminating sanctions, lie about it to the FBI, and is awaiting sentencing.

 That Trump's campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, did not hand over polling data that Russia presumably used to interfere with our elections to Konstantin Kilimnic, indicted for witness tampering and thought to have ties to Russian intelligence.

 That there was no Trump tower meeting where a Russian lawyer was to broker "dirt" on Hillary Clinton, a prospect which elicited from an excited Donald Jr., "I love it, especially late in the summer".

 That the president didn't concoct a lie, saying that the meeting was about adoption.

 That there was no Wikileaks download of Russian-hacked Democratic National Committee e-mail late in the summer, which Trump's longtime friend and strategist Roger Stone seemed to know about in advance.

 That Jared Kushner did not try to set up a back channel at a Russian diplomatic site to communicate with Russia secretly.

 That Trump didn't admit to CBS's Lester Holt that he fired FBI Director James Comey because of the Russia investigation, and didn't tell Russian officials in the Oval Office the next day that he had "taken off" the "great pressure because of Russia".

 That Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen were not working to land a deal for a Moscow hotel tower and Cohen did not lie that those negotiations efforts had ended that January when in fact they continued all the way to the election.

 That Trump never said "Russia, if you're listening" to ask that they find an alleged 30,000 missing Hillary Clinton e-mails, nor that there was hacking activity that very night.

The list is much longer. And why all the lying if the over 100 unexplained contacts with Russian nationals were innocent? What to make of Trump's constant praise of Vladimir Putin, even to accepting his word in Helsinki over his own intelligence agencies' that Russia did not meddle in the U.S. elections. ("I don't see why they would".)

All the above and far more was found out by the media. Absent their extraordinary investigative work these last three years, you would have known none of this.

And yet President Trump wants to investigate why there ever was an investigation.

James Comey had an answer for that in an interview with CBS's Lester Holt. The fired FBI Director said:

"Let me make one up for you. The Iranians — this is totally made up — the Iranians interfere in the election to help elect Barack Obama because they think they'll get a better nuclear deal from him. And during that election, an Obama aide meets with the Iranians and talks about the dirt they have that will help Obama get elected, and the FBI finds out about that…And then President Obama's national security adviser lies to the FBI about his contacts with the Iranians and then the president, Obama, asks me to drop an investigation of that, and then fires me and says, 'I was thinking of the Iranian thing'. Who on Earth doesn't think the FBI should investigate that? So the hypocrisy is revealed just by changing the names."

Mueller's cohort had come up with indictments of 34 people and 3 companies, seven guilty pleas, and several other matters discovered outside the Russia question and referred to the Southern District of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, and the DC district — all these cases ongoing. But none of that registered in the rush to create the new reality. Columnist Fred Barnes at the arch-right-wing Washington Examiner wrote:

We didn't need a 'special counsel' to tell us President Trump had not colluded with Russia…practically anyone with a law degree…would have recognized Trump's innocence from the start. And declared, 'There's no case here'."

Sure about that?

tremors

It took about a week before anyone in the media wondered how big is the Mueller report. Former judge Andrew Napolitano on "Fox and Friends" startled reporters awake when he spitballed about "700 pages". Barr seemed to be in a hurry to knock that back but was cagey about the page count, refusing to be specific even to House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler who called him up to ask. He could only say it was "substantial".

Barr's short letter with its cursory conclusions of no "controversy or coordination" with Russia and ambivalence about obstruction had given the impression there was not much to report. Barr evidently did not want it known that the report ran to more than 400 pages. That said there is a lot more to be told. How could the Mueller crew have written 400-plus pages about nothing? And if there are exhibits and notes, it might reach Napolitano's 700.

Donald Trump wanted everyone to see the report. He had insisted he had "nothing to hide" and said, "Let the people see it". Accordingly, Attorney General Barr pledged maximum transparency. It had looked like we'd all get to see almost all of it, but now the ground has shifted. Before delivery to Congress, Barr said the Justice Department must first comb through the report to redact a dragnet list of exclusion: classified information, material from grand jury testimony, from ongoing investigations, intelligence sources, privileged White House communications (with Barr as judge), material that might impinge on the privacy or reputations of innocent persons. “Everyone will soon be able to read it on their own,” Barr wrote to Nadler. What's left of it. Late night television hosts began showing completely blackened pages with only two words showing — "no" and "collusion", or "witch" and "hunt".

Congress would have none of this. It has members with security clearance and SKIFs (secure rooms) for classified document review. It can ask a federal judge for a waiver to view grand jury material, commonly given in matters of importance of this kind. And claims of executive privilege are debatable and generally don't hold up. When Barr failed to deliver the report by a one-week deadline thrown down by Nadler, his committee voted to authorize issuance of a subpoena for immediate delivery of the full and unredacted report. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi berated Barr for "condescending" by assuming that Congress should be content with his summary. "Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions", she said. "We don't need you interpreting for us."

The White House has become unnerved and is having second thoughts about "nothing to hide". They would apparently like only those two sentences from the report quoted in Barr's letter to survive. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made clear the White House wants the report smothered. About House Democrats' demands to see it, she said in a Fox interview, “I think it just shows again what sore losers the Democrats really are.”

With reporters in the Oval Office, the president wondered why Congress needed to see the report at all. He thinks disclosure is "somewhat of a waste of time":

“Well, I think it’s ridiculous. We went through two years of the Mueller investigation. We have — I mean, not only that, you read the — the wording. It was proven. Who could go through that and get wording where it was no collusion, no nothing? So, there’s no collusion. The attorney general now and the deputy attorney general ruled no obstruction. They said no obstruction. And so, there’s no collusion. There’s no obstruction. And now, we’re going to start this process all over again? I think it’s a disgrace.

These are just Democrats that want to try and demean this country and it shouldn’t be allowed…. I will tell you anything we give them will never be enough.”

Trump will "weaponize the results" of the supposed exoneration. He has torn into Adam Schiff (in Twitter he had called him Adam Schitt), demanding he resign from his post as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, as did Republican members of the committee. Schiff had broadly announced that his committee would continue its probe into the Russia connection. For Journal columnist Kimberley Strassel, Schiff and others are "bitter enders" who cannot accept that "the party is over".

Bitter ender Schiff has suffered two years in the minority watching previous chairman Devin Nunes block the Russia investigation and instead devote the intelligence committee to attacking the FBI and the Justice Department.

quakes and fissures

And now as this is written have come rumblings from inside the Mueller camp, as first reported by The New York Times quickly followed by a more expanded Washington Post account, of grumbling not from the Mueller team members themselves, but from office associates. They had told the Times of their frustration that "Barr failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry" which are "more troubling for President Trump than Mr. Barr indicated". An official told a Post reporter that, “There was immediate displeasure from the team when they saw how the attorney general had characterized their work".

For Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, the members of the special counsel team "are a bunch of sneaky, unethical leakers, and they are rabid Democrats who hate the president of United States”.

The Post was told that the report was divided in sections and summaries were prepared for each section with the intention that they "could have been released immediately — or very quickly" to the public. That caused Nadler to write Barr that the summaries should be released right away "to allow the American people to judge the facts for themselves". The DOJ's defense for not releasing the summaries is that every page of the report has a boilerplate header or footer that says the page may contain protected grand jury matter, and therefore all summaries needed to be screened for redaction. If that's the reason, why has vetting of just summaries taken so long, and why would there be any grand jury matter pertaining to the obstruction section? Nadler has not fallen for any of it.

"Barr is an agent of the president. He was put there for that purpose…That's his job, to protect the president personally and one could not therefore trust the accuracy of anything he produced".

Which serves to remind that Barr auditioned for the attorney general job with a 19-page memo given to Trump which said that a president cannot obstruct justice. He wrote a memo last year calling Mueller's obstruction investigation "grossly irresponsible ", "fatally misconceived", and "premised on a novel and legally insupportable reading of the law". He has said his attorney general job is to be the president's lawyer, contrary to the traditional view that the Justice Department should remain independent. Barr believes the president has sweeping executive powers and doesn't even think that a president needs to answer questions. No surprise that he got the job.

The frustration is that Americans may have already made up their minds about the investigation based not on the Mueller report but on Barr's stepping in front to frame the issue in the president's favor.

Barr has expressed a commitment to release the report. He and the Justice Department know there is huge public demand to see it in full. The question is whether the attorney general will scrub it until there's little left and call that honoring the commitment. If so, then it will be clear that he intends to keep the whole truth from coming out until after the election, and if the subpoena power of Congress and an irate public somehow speeds the process along before then, Trump has in the Supreme Court his two appointees happy for the opportunity to return the favor. Years may pass before the report reaches the public. Americans may find that all they have as strategy is to yell "cover up!".

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