Why you should care
Because we’ve been waiting for this report for a long time.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
What to Know
What happened? An expansive, nearly two-year independent investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded that President Donald Trump and his associates did not collude with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. But the report failed to reach a firm conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice in the course of that investigation. Mueller delivered his evidence this week to Attorney General William Barr, who found it was insufficient to conclude that Trump committed a crime.
Why does it matter? The four-page memo from Barr to Congress in some ways lifts a cloud that’s hovered over Trump’s presidency from the start, and punctures liberal dreams of a presidency-shattering bombshell about a deal between Trump Tower and the Kremlin. There’s already plenty of public evidence about connections between Russians and Trump associates, from former campaign manager Paul Manafort to Donald Trump Jr. But Mueller reported that the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The report wasn’t all rosy for Trump, however. Mueller, via Barr, notes: “While this report does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” when it comes to obstruction of justice. Remember that Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey — which he admitted in an NBC News interview was due in part to the Russia investigation — is what prompted Mueller’s appointment in the first place. Barr points out that most of Mueller’s obstruction case “has been the subject of public reporting,” and Barr concludes that it did not rise to the level of a crime.
How to Think About it
The end of the beginning. Democrats want as much of the report — and its underlying evidence — made public as soon as possible. Anything less, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler declared on Fox News Sunday, would amount to a “cover-up.” But much of the counterintelligence portion of the investigation will be classified, and Trump’s White House might try to put more aspects of it off-limits, citing executive privilege.
The wrangling over how much to make public could take some time, as Barr notes there are Department of Justice rules against revealing grand jury information. We may yet see Mueller testify before Congress — the cable news event to end all cable news events.
2020 vision. Trump immediately declared victory, and his campaign pushed out a video entitled “COLLUSION HOAX.” The report is likely to further galvanize the president’s base against the news media and Democrats, while removing a potentially powerful arrow from the quiver of Trump’s foes as the re-election campaign accelerates. Trump has another of his signature MAGA rallies scheduled for Thursday in Michigan.
No need to impeach? House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has so far resisted calls from her party’s base to impeach Trump, and most Democrats were awaiting Mueller’s findings. Now that the results are in — and largely in Trump’s favor, at first blush — it will strengthen the case against impeachment. Expect the i-word talk from the left flank to continue, with an intense focus on any fresh Mueller-derived evidence of obstruction of justice. But party leaders are likely to hold off on pulling the trigger, as they see impeachment as bad politics.
Investigation nation. In all, there are roughly 17 investigations around Trump and Russia. Mueller was conducting seven of them, but Congress and local prosecutors will keep the others going for months, looking into areas far beyond Mueller’s narrow focus of the 2016 election and Russia.
With investigations into Trump’s administration, inauguration and business, Democrats hope to unearth more damaging information heading into the 2020 campaign. Republicans, meanwhile, are pushing for more investigations into the FBI’s conduct and how the probe into Trump’s campaign started under the Obama administration. “This was an illegal takedown that failed, and hopefully somebody is going to be looking at their other side,” Trump told reporters Sunday.
What to Read
It’s Official: Russiagate Is This Generation’s WMD, by Matt Taibbi, an excerpt from the book Hate Inc.
We broke every written and unwritten rule in pursuit of this story, starting with the prohibition on reporting things we can’t confirm.
The Question the Mueller Report Has Not Answered, by David Frum in The Atlantic
The prize of a Trump presidency must have glittered alluringly, indeed, to Putin and his associates. Why?
What to Watch
“Not a single American citizen has been charged with anything related to Russian collusion. … The people on TV have been lying to you.”
“There’s going to be a fear among the American public that there’s been a whitewash here.”
What to Say at the Watercooler
Warp speed. The investigation seems like it has taken forever, but Mueller’s 675-day run as special counsel actually was a crisp pace compared to recent presidential investigators. Ken Starr, who started his probe with Clinton family Arkansas land deals and ended with Monica Lewinsky, served as independent counsel for more than four years. Lawrence Walsh’s Iran-Contra probe of Ronald Reagan’s administration lasted more than six years.