One of the many inevitable effects of set-piece investigations like Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election is that it becomes a point of not just anticipation but obsession. Both sides become invested in hoping desperately that their pre-existing beliefs will be confirmed, and work tirelessly to prepare the ground for the most effective spin operation to prove exactly that.
Now that Mueller’s report has been submitted, the whole process is obscured by exactly this maelstrom. Vindication, denunciation, further allegations, conspiracy theories, threats of retribution and so on fly about and make it all the more difficult to get at what we do and don’t know. For British observers, understandably perhaps somewhat distracted by events closer to home, it can be particularly difficult to dip into and get any insight.
So, for the benefit of our readers, here is ConservativeHome’s Crash Guide To What We Know And What We Don’t Know About The Mueller Report (CGTWWKAWWDKATMR for short).
We don’t know what is in the full report yet. The whole report has not been published – the decision on whether to do so lies with William Barr, the Attorney General. Thus far he has provided a summary of the findings to Congress, and there is of course no way of knowing how accurate or complete that summary is. If there are no differences, and no hidden nasties, the Democrats argue, why not release the whole thing?
The whole thing might yet come out. Barr is under a great deal of pressure to publish it, and presumably a lot of pressure not to do so, too. Congress can try to compel him to release the full report, if it so desires. The Attorney General says he must for legal reasons review which of the contents of the report can legally be released before deciding on any further publication. Of course, it might leak – demand for knowledge has a great way of creating a supply.
Barr’s letter does tell us some things, however. Even taken with a pinch of salt, or viewed as not necessarily complete, his “public interest” summary of the report does provide a series of facts arising from the investigation which are worth studying.
Mueller found evidence of Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election. Ranging from organised campaigns of disinformation to targeted hacking of political institutions and individuals linked to the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party. The probe also confirmed that the products of these efforts were distributed via Wikileaks, as well as elsewhere.
“Russian-affiliated individuals” offered the Trump campaign assistance – on “multiple” occasions, apparently.
But “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or co-ordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” This quote, given in Barr’s letter, is from the report itself.
Mueller also investigated whether the President obstructed his investigation. Like the details of the Russian interference investigation, the detailed findings are still sealed, beyond the Attorney General’s summary.
“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Mueller’s own words, describing a decision which he took to present his evidence in the report but leave the decision to charge or not to charge to Barr and his deputy.
Barr has decided the findings are “not sufficient” to sustain charges against the President.
In the course of the Mueller investigation, a range of other people have been charged – and in some cases already convicted – for various alleged offences including team Trump members, as well as several Russians. A handy summary of those involved can be found here.
The big question, of course, is what next? A partial picture of the report is in some ways the worst of both worlds, allowing as it does for the President’s supporters to claim total exoneration and his critics to speculate about what might lurk in the detail. The row about publishing it in full will continue, rightly, but don’t expect any great conclusion from it.
In the meantime, lacking the slam-dunk they hoped might knock Trump right out of the White House, his opponents must surely start to reconsider their strategy. Do they double down, and pursue the topics explored by Mueller further, or do they chalk it up as a bust and move onto the President’s administration, policies and performance?