On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress summarizing special counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election.” Barr’s four-page summary can be condensed into three findings.
First, yeah, the Russians interfered ahead of the election. Second, to quote from Mueller’s report, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” Third, Mueller drew no conclusions about whether Donald Trump obstructed justice, and left it to Barr to decide based on the assembled facts. Barr decided that, even putting aside the constitutional questions, prosecution would not be warranted.
Needless to say, Trump’s political allies are pretty happy about this letter, while Democrats are not nearly as happy.
The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is far from Trump’s biggest fan, so it would be logical to conclude that I should be unhappy. The more I think about what Barr has communicated, however, the happier I think I am. Here’s why:
1. We will know soon enough whether Barr shaded the truth. Remember, we are reading the attorney general’s summary of the report. The survivors in Trump’s Cabinet have been known to say things designed solely to make Trump happy, however. Could Barr have shaded Mueller’s findings?
Maybe. But Barr also said in his letter that “my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.” This means that an awful lot of this report will be public pretty soon. No redaction process will blot out Mueller’s findings. If Barr framed his letter in a way that was overly generous toward Trump, we will know soon.
2. No collusion! No witch hunt! Call me crazy, but I think it’s a good day when we learn that a sitting president did not collude with a hostile foreign government. At the same time, Trump’s supporters who were convinced that this was a witch hunt must live with the fact that they were wrong. As Bloomberg Opinion’s Ramesh Ponnuru noted, “The record suggests that the portrayal of Mueller as a corrupt agent of the deep state bent on bringing down Trump was a fantasy, or worse, spread by some of the president’s most committed supporters.”
Mueller and his team acted with complete propriety and did not engage in overzealous prosecutions. They also proved far better at draining the swamp than the Trump administration.
3. The intelligence community was correct! When the intelligence community released its assessment about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump dismissed it, and continued to dismiss it at every opportunity. Mueller’s indictments and Barr’s summary both prove that Trump was wrong to dismiss the intelligence community. No less a GOP stalwart than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, stated, “Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere with our democracy are dangerous and disturbing, and I welcome the Special Counsel’s contributions to our efforts to understand better Russia’s activities in this regard.” One only wishes that he had felt this strongly about it back in 2016.
4. It lowers the odds of impeachment. There is no way to view this summary as increasing the chances of the House impeaching Trump, and that is fine with me. I think Trump has been an awful president, but the best way to express that opinion is through the ballot box. That is how I would like to see Trump exit the White House.
5. 2020 will be about the future of the country and not about election meddling. Based on the campaign coverage to date, it seemed clear that the Democrats running in 2020 were not talking about Trump and Russia. This summary, if it’s accurate, will cement that posture. Democrats have no shortage of criticism to level against the Trump administration. It includes the administration’s waning influence on the global stage, its failure to deliver on foreign policy, its debilitation of government expertise and Trump’s bad fit for the presidency.
The Democrats running for president have preferred to challenge Trump on the issues. They will get that opportunity.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a regular contributor to PostEverything.