by Gallagher & Schleicher
“It’s over” according to U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., regarding the long-awaited conclusion of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and efforts to obstruct that inquiry.
He’s right; this surely puts the matter to rest once and for all. He didn’t even need to read all of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report to reach a firm opinion; nor, apparently, did U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who admitted in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that he hadn’t bothered to peruse the underlying evidence in the report before essentially acquitting the president. So that’s that; it’s over.
With the issue now fully resolved, the president and his team can move on to new and pressing matters: blocking subpoenas, refusing document requests and evading testimony, among the many other time-consuming tasks associated with running a racket.
But before we drop the matter completely, we think it’s important to reflect on some of the important precedents and concepts it has illuminated. A lesson learned is a lesson earned, after all.
First, these things need not take so much time, or any time at all. As Barr made clear in his Senate testimony, the Constitution actually allows for a president to fire someone for investigating him (or her) and — if that boat has sailed — to openly obstruct the inquiry. Given that Barr noted this applies whenever the president considers the investigation to be “baseless,” we can assume Presidents Nixon and Bill Clinton were simply unaware of this courtesy or thought similar investigations into their administrations were in fact warranted.
Second, long reports are so 1998. Mueller seems to be bothered about how few actually read the hundreds of pages of the report he and his staff of career prosecutors and law enforcement agents spent years researching and writing. But come on. It’s 2019, and if it can’t be said in a few Game of Thrones memes, it’s probably not worth saying.
In full disclosure, we did read the executive summaries the Mueller team provided for the underlying evidence and, while their intentions were good, it’s clear they were practically asking to be ignored. For example, Mueller made the delicate legal point that when the report said something was not established, that does not mean it didn’t happen, merely that he did not uncover sufficient evidence to consider it proven as a matter of criminal law.
Mueller also disclaimed examining whether there was any “collusion,” saying his focus instead was whether there was what met the legal definition of “conspiracy.” Dude, say this in a GIF next time.
Third, don’t bury the headline. The last four words of the report “…does not exonerate him” should have been in the opening sentence. Supporters would still ignore it, but it would take a lot less time to do so.
Fourth, facts are important, but feelings rule. Mueller noted his work was hindered because Trump campaign officials lied to prosecutors, destroyed records, used encrypted apps and communicated via methods that precluded data retention. There’s also a curious reference to Congress having the power to protect the justice system by prohibiting a president’s “corrupt use of his authority.” These are important details but not enough to overcome the blind loyalty felt by Barr or Graham, among others.
And fifth, when in doubt, tweet. In a #TLDR (“too long, didn’t read”) world, there’s only one way to get the president’s attention or those in tow (other than an appearance on Fox & Friends), and that’s Twitter.
This could have done the trick: Russia/Trump campaign in bed together and lie about it — but “nothing happened.” Profound Trump effort to obstruct justice, yet so far a #fail. Your turn, Congress.
Looking beyond the report and Barr’s limited congressional appearance to defend his handling of it, some may worry about related investigations and possible crimes referred to other jurisdictions, such as the Southern District of New York. But with the president able to quash investigations into himself and Billy Barr serving in the role of Sycophant General, we need not even worry our pretty little heads about any of that. We’ll again quote Senator Graham in case you didn’t believe us the first time: “It’s over.” That’s game, set, and match.
Others will express concern that a president now above the law is the very sort of thing that foments corruption and that the Founding Fathers sought to protect us from. Well, try reading a newspaper or watching the news in North Korea, Cuba or China. You’ll see that there are no substantive stories about greed or dishonesty on the part of those in charge. We can only conclude that modern autocracies have learned to eliminate wrongdoing by government officials.
As the song learned in Vacation Bible School from a childhood in Texas taught us in part, “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy…but to trust and obey.”
Did we mention it’s over?
David Gallagher is a transplanted Texas, living and working in London, tweeting @TBoneGallagher. David Schleicher is an attorney who splits his time between Waco and D.C. but is spending this week exploring places in the U.K. where he might seek asylum.