Well, that didn’t take long.
The ink wasn’t dry on Attorney General William Barr’s laughably porous “summary” of the Mueller report before Donald Trump and his allies declared war on all who have displeased them. This included a demand from Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) that Bill Clinton be investigated for his 2016 airport tarmac meeting with then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch, demands for an investigation into the investigators, demands for an investigation into how the whole thing is Barack Obama’s fault, demands for a whole separate investigation into how the whole thing is actually Hillary Clinton’s fault, an enemies list sent to media outlets naming people who should be banned from the airways and, of course, a wholesale assault on the news media itself.
The Mainstream Media is under fire and being scorned all over the World as being corrupt and FAKE. For two years they pushed the Russian Collusion Delusion when they always knew there was No Collusion. They truly are the Enemy of the People and the Real Opposition Party!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 26, 2019
“We’ve had very bad things happen and those people are certainly to be looked at,” Trump told reporters on Monday. “I’ve been looking at it for a long time and I’m saying, ‘Why haven’t they been looked at?’ They lied to Congress, and many of them, you know who they are. They’ve done so many evil things.”
I believe this is what is known as “going big.” Clearly, the administration and its allies have decided the iron is hot and the time to strike is now: Rile up the base. Make enough noise and muddy the waters. Distract from all the other ongoing investigations and the fact that Mueller’s report was only the end of the beginning for Trump. Hamstring the oversight powers of Congress with a barrage of self-serving bile. Harden the ground for the likelihood that the report will be leaked so it will bounce harmlessly if it ever does appear.
They don’t give a demonstrable damn about appearing obvious and ham-fisted with this assault. Trump does not do subtle, and his friends have learned the value of coarse belligerence at his knee. Trump is pretending to be Colonel Chamberlain bellowing “Bayonets!” as he prepares a counterattack against the rebels who threaten to sweep him off Little Round Top, and the Republicans who put all their chips on his felt are joining the charge.
“The best defense is a good offense,” goes the old football maxim. The fact that it is all a sham, a show for Trump’s most dedicated voters and his favorite “news” network, is of no importance in this White House. A comprehensive lack of shame is Trump’s greatest asset in these trying times; it frees him to say and do literally anything if it gains him half an inch of ground, or attention, or money. His GOP allies discovered the power of shamelessness during the last administration, and are putting that rotten wisdom to work.
Trump’s blunderbuss tactics do not come without substantial risk, however. “Trump and his allies immediately reminded everyone how little respect this president has for democratic norms and set themselves up for political damage if the Mueller report doesn’t live up to their spin,” writes Jonathan Bernstein for Bloomberg News. “Instead of taking a win and building on it, Trump took all of one day to oversell it, increase the likelihood that more damaging information will be publicly released, and remind everyone that he’s still unfit for the office he holds.”
That “damaging information” looms large in the hallways of offices like the US attorney for the Southern District of New York and the New York Department of Financial Services. Meanwhile, loud questions about the Mueller report itself – specifically regarding the counterintelligence portion dealing with various contacts between Trump’s people and Russian agents – will only be answered if and when the full report is made public. House Democrats have set a deadline of April 2 for its release, which Barr is unlikely (and probably unwilling) to meet.
“[William Barr] put a little lipstick on something that might’ve been fairly ugly,” John Dean, former White House counsel to Nixon and expert on rogue presidents, told CNN’s Don Lemon. “We haven’t really seen the underlying report, but I have some suspicions that the reason he boiled this down the way he did is because it’s not very attractive, Don. [Mueller’s] words are very different than Barr’s, I suspect.”
Dean later followed up on those voiced suspicions with a tweet of his own:
Having re-read William Barr’s June 2018 Memo critiquing Mueller’s obstruction investigation and now his summary of Mueller’s Report, it is clear that Richard Nixon would not have been forced to resign his office if Barr had been Attorney General. Barr wants a POTUS above the law.
— John Dean (@JohnWDean) March 25, 2019
Also pressing is the fundamental question of whether William Barr had any business whatsoever throwing a can of whitewash on Mueller’s unreleased report. Mueller deliberately chose not to draw a conclusion on obstruction, leaving it to Congress to decide the issue on the merits of the information he spent two years compiling. The whole thing isn’t supposed to dry up and blow away because a political appointee banged out a four-page cover story in 48 hours. The idea is preposterous on its face.
“It didn’t much matter what the facts would show,” said former US attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara in an interview with Crooked Media, “and so in the absence of Bob Mueller making a determination about whether or not a crime was committed, Bill Barr right on cue sort of swoops in to say, ‘No crime here’ … Bob Mueller was punting to Congress, because he didn’t want to make this ultimate decision, and Bill Barr came off the sidelines, caught the ball and ran it into the end zone for a touchdown for Trump, which was not what Mueller was expecting.”
Thank goodness for instant replay. It remains to be seen whether that touchdown stays on the scoreboard. In the meantime, buckle up for a bunch of bombastic nonsense from the Trump crew. They are feeling their oats today, giddy with relief at having gotten away with a slew of monstrous crimes.