For now, we wait.
It’s a song as old as time; wait for the last breath of media attention before a long holiday weekend then drop the stinking oppo, the bad news, the terrible financial report. The Holy Week Mueller News Dump is sure to be a classic of the form that borders on the blasphemous; most Americans look forward to Easter as a time for faith and family, not for scrying the meaning of text under oceans of black redaction marks.
The idea of the news dump is that no one will be watching (and if they are they’ll hear Barr’s summary again first). It won’t work this time, but it will mean people who give a damn about the truth of this investigation will be parsing what little we expect to get from a Justice Department head dedicated not to the law or our security, but to protecting Donald Trump’s ample ass.
There are a lot of very smart legal minds standing by to parse the document Attorney General William Barr (R-Trump’s Pocket) drops on Thursday.
When Trump toady Matt Schlapp tweeted on Feb. 14, 2019, that the president now had a fully operational attorney general, he said the quiet part loud.
He signaled to everyone who would listen that the fix was in, Mueller was done, and whatever report hit his desk would be diluted, redacted, and memory-holed just as far as he could.
Four weeks ago, Barr proved it. He gave Donald Trump a peerless political gift; a four-page get-out-of-jail-free card that allowed the president and his hallelujah chorus to scream to the heavens, “No Collusion! No Obstruction!” They’ve screamed it until they’re hoarse, desperate to close the long chapter of the Mueller investigation.
Tomorrow, Bill Barr will continue his shenanigans by releasing a version of the Mueller report that is expected to be so heavily redacted that we may not be able to see much besides the words “a” “and” and “the” on many pages. Barr’s sweeping interpretation of what he chooses to redact has already been previewed for Congress and the American people, and his answer is everything he damn well pleases. If they hurt Trump, expect a black box to cover every single word.
There will be many who throw up their hands in frustration and anger. That’s a feature of the Trump/Barr/Giuliani strategy. Their stonewalling hasn’t been punished by Congress or the courts at any turn, and they feel invincible. They’re counting on exhaustion and fury to be the primary reaction to one more outrage, one more coverup, one more example of Trumpian corruption and lawlessness.
Shake it off, people.
Those who oppose Trump and value our institutions will see that even this limited release of the Mueller report is one more battle in a long war.
The biggest fear of Trump and his allies is that the report will say, “Well, if Trump were a civilian, we’d indict his ass, take him to trial, win, and slap his fool ass into a SuperMax pour encourager les autres, but DOJ policy says we can’t indict a president.” That outcome is high on the bad-case scenario list; it will supercharge the congressional impeachment fires.
What else might we learn? For starters, Americans are likely to get a much more detailed understanding that Trump won the election with the help of friends in the Russian intelligence agencies tasked to destroy America from within.
Even from the currently filed indictments and documents that have come to light, we know that the counterintelligence aspects of the Mueller investigation almost immediately, and in granular detail, identified the Russian influence operation that successfully manipulated the 2016 election.
We’ll likely learn quite a bit more about this, even though some of it will have been derived from SIGINT and COMINT channels that will remain classified. This will be an education on the vulnerabilities of our elections, our media, our social media platforms, and an indelible confirmation that President Donald Trump will always have a Cyrillic asterisk next to his name, even without a demonstrated quid pro quo.
Next, we’ll get to see the grasping, venal eagerness Trump had to build a tower in Moscow. Between Mueller, Cohen, and Felix Sater, this is already coming to light, but Trump has always acted with a degree of boot-licking obedience to Vladimir Putin that borders on comic. He didn’t want to be president; he wanted to build a branded tower in Moscow. Spoiler: He still does.
Even among Trump’s most fervent followers, there’s a creeping sense that the victory lap may have been too much. The chest beating, the declaration that revenge was coming, endless gloating based on nothing more than a four-page letter seemed to the brighter members of the Trump orbit to be an invitation for some karmic comeuppance of the first order.
NBC reported Tuesday that many in the White House now, or those who were fired or limped away, are nervous that the Mueller report will show them to be either subjects or cooperators. Trump’s notorious vengeful streak is going to make for some awkward conversations and ugly tweets. One jumpy Trump ally asked me rhetorically, “Do you think he’ll be pissed if Mueller says he and the campaign were too stupid to take the Russian help?”
Trump is the god of projection, our umber O.J. Simpson, taunting and winking at the audience, writing his own version of “If I Did It” with every tweet. Familial omerta and tribal protection are more valuable than gold. He proves a case darker than just campaign collusion with moments like Helsinki and Paris, where we clearly see who is the master and who is the servant in the Trump-Putin relationship. Spoiler: It’s Vlad holding the leash.
Trump’s allies have been trying to discredit Mueller for two years, and they saw this release as a complete vindication of their theory that it wasn’t Trump and the Russians conspiring, but the nefarious, imaginary deep state.
Trump and his friends at Fox have led a constant drumbeat that it’s vital now to investigate the investigators, to track down those dastardly deep staters. That’s the next major turn of the public messaging strategy on the part of Fox, and the louder that is, the more you know the details of the Mueller report are hitting home.
It won’t matter to the MAGA yokel crowd and the QAnon loons, but what we’ll see from the report will be the serious men and women from the SCO, FBI, DOJ and intel community facing up to urgent national security threats and rampant obstruction, not a rabid pack of partisan Democrats chasing Trump and his blameless allies. Instead of a witch hunt, we’ll almost certainly see that this was a fine-grained, highly professional investigation of the leads that generated a broad, well-sourced, and fully justified effort.
The Mueller investigation has already given us an idea of the scuzzy, sleazy behavior of several of Trump’s close advisers, including Michael Cohen, Roger Stone and Paul Manafort. We’ll see more, and it won’t be pretty.
In many ways, this 400-page redaction is the tip of a big, slimy iceberg. Mueller was a cagey player from the start, and he likely gamed out scenarios where Trump would try to derail the course of justice. The dispersal of cases out to the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York, the Eastern District of Virginia, and the DC US Attorney means he built a legal hydra resistant to interference and decapitation. Those cases are ongoing, and like a minefield, still dangerous to Trump and his cronies.
The media, which never fail to get pranked by the Trump enterprise, the sense that the Russia story is over, done, kaput, and that Trump emerged unscathed will get a mountain of new leads, new storylines, and new evidence. Congress will have more work than it can handle, and if this game of redaction and coverup doesn’t shake the Democrats into sudden, vicious action, nothing can save them.
The wheels of justice grind notoriously slowly, but they grind fine. Sorry, Donald—the game is still on.