Jared Yates Sexton is an associate professor at Georgia Southern University. He is the author of The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage.
Since May 17, 2017, Americans have been waiting with bated breath for the findings of Robert Mueller’s investigation into suspicion of collusion between Russia and the Donald Trump presidential campaign. Mr. Mueller, a lifelong Republican and former director of the FBI, was turned into a folk hero of sorts, a mythical figure opponents of Mr. Trump believed would save the country from ruin and somehow erase the presidency. Since the Mueller report was delivered to Attorney-General William Barr on Friday, speculation ran rampant as to what it contained and what its findings might be; now, following Mr. Barr’s letter summarizing the report on Sunday, there are more questions than answers.
Simply, Mr. Barr’s four-page letter is a bizarre text that appears to play several rhetorical games simultaneously. While it states that Mr. Mueller “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or co-ordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the specifics as to whether the investigation found any evidence whatsoever goes unanswered. On the issue of obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller punted the decision to the Department of Justice, which chose not to act on his findings.
A concerned citizen can read this, and any number of obscure passages, over and over without finding clarity. Mr. Barr’s letter is an insufficient accounting of Mr. Mueller’s investigation and, considering the Attorney-General was appointed by the President, a disappointing partisan document that has not put worries to rest.
The summary reads like political spin, a first glance meant to sway public opinion and control media narratives.
And my, how it has worked. Already media outlets, both respectable and blatantly partisan, are reporting that Mr. Mueller’s report has exonerated Mr. Trump while the letter itself specifically says the report said, in no uncertain terms, it did not exonerate the President. But that does not matter. In a news cycle that lives and dies by immediate coverage in an environment of ever-present anxiety, the story now has its first chapter. Even if the report is released in full and its findings run counter to Mr. Barr’s summarization, this has been a moment to shape perception moving forward.
The actual report needs to be released in its entirety. The United States deserves to know the truth as to what happened in 2016. There is a minimum when it comes to faith and trust in government, and nothing that has happened this weekend has begun the process of salving the wound that’s been inflicted.
And that loss of faith has been earned by repeated mistruths. Mr. Trump has been caught in one lie after another, has been proven dishonest when saying he had no projects in Russia while his private attorney worked on a hotel deal that would supply Russian President Vladimir Putin a luxurious penthouse. Mr. Trump’s campaign has been shown, time and again, to have met clandestinely with Russian influences, heard their appeals for collusion, revelled in interference that would hurt Mr. Trump’s political opponent Hillary Clinton, contacted Russians in regard to further communication and about sanctions, and has lied, repeatedly, when confronted with questions about relationships with Russia.
Not to mention, Mr. Trump himself has more or less colluded with Russia in public, including a moment in July, 2016, when he (apparently jokingly) appealed to Russian hackers, who had already hacked the Democratic National Committee to aid his campaign, on live television to hack Ms. Clinton again.
Or, when he told NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired FBI director James Comey while thinking, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” And, if that weren’t bad enough, Mr. Trump has repeatedly sided with Vladimir Putin in nearly every matter, including taking his word over the unanimous findings of U.S. intelligence that Russia had hacked the 2016 election.
If Mr. Trump’s story, and the emerging spin on the right, are to be believed, all of this is coincidental and a matter of circumstance. Maybe it is. Maybe Mr. Trump hired Paul Manafort in the summer of 2016 after Mr. Manafort spent years working with Russian assets in Ukraine and just spontaneously began parroting Russian propaganda and working toward Russian interests as Russian hackers bolstered his efforts.
Maybe multiple members of his campaign communicated independently with Russians and independently lied about it all on their own accord. Maybe Mr. Trump’s efforts to curb the investigation into collusion have been out of anxiety rather than guilt.
I truly hope all of this is a witch hunt. I hope the President isn’t a compromised crook and I hope Russia hasn’t totally poisoned the American political process. Finding that out would be a blessing any of Mr. Trump’s critics would welcome.
But Sunday’s developments didn’t put those worries to rest. It only presented more questions and more suspicion, and the U.S. simply cannot move forward as a country until some answers are given.