In recent days, the unanimous message that has blared forth from President Trump, his media propagandists and his Republican allies in Congress on the Mueller report is that it is now “case closed” on this whole story, as Mitch McConnell put it.
Countless Republicans have uttered the same talking point in every conceivable forum: No collusion, no obstruction. This is an entirely settled matter — total exoneration.
Yet at the same time, the full force of the administration’s legal resources — backed up by the Senate majority leader and virtually all congressional Republicans — has been marshaled against further fact-finding of any and all kinds, on just about every single remaining front where outstanding unknowns remain.
Why? Why is this massive effort to close down every last remaining line of inquiry necessary, if Trump has been totally exonerated?
Let’s survey the big picture:
The refusal to release the full Mueller materials. The New York Times reports an intriguing nugget on Trump’s internal deliberations over the fate of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s full, unredacted report:
He has asked some confidants why they should not just reveal everything in the 448-page Mueller report, the vast majority of which has already been made public.
The Times reports that according to people close to Trump, this impulse has “contradicted” his “lawyers’ advice.” That’s suggestive: Trump’s lawyers apparently think it will be bad for him if all those materials come out.
Judiciary Democrats argue that they are entitled to the unredacted report and underlying evidence to independently evaluate Mueller’s conclusions as a matter of basic oversight, and to determine whether other legislative steps are merited, such as fortifying election security, institutional reforms in response to the extensive presidential obstruction of justice that Mueller documented, or possibly impeachment.
This is inarguably within Congress’ authority. But why do Trump’s lawyers think the disclosure of the information itself would be bad for him, if this is a closed matter? Doesn’t that undermine Trump’s stated rationale for exerting executive privilege to block this release — that it’s about defending against a Democratic “abuse of power”?
It’s possible, of course, that Trump’s lawyers fear the materials will give Democrats more grounds for an impeachment inquiry. But if so, that also undercuts the idea that Trump has been totally exonerated, as well as undermining the oft-stated notion that Trump thinks impeachment would be good for him.
There are, of course, legitimate reasons for exerting executive privilege. But Trump is mobilizing to use it, while threatening to defy “all” subpoenas, in a blanket fashion that is highly corrupt, including to stop former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who witnessed extensive obstruction, from testifying, as well as to keep the full Mueller findings secret. Why is all this happening?
The blockade on counterintelligence materials. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) is demanding that the Justice Department brief his Intelligence Committee on the findings of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation, which isn’t documented in the Mueller report, unlike those from the criminal probe.
As Schiff told Rachel Maddow, such materials could shed more light on contacts between Trumpworld figures and Russians, and on additional findings that raise counterintelligence but not criminal concerns.
“We still don’t know what the counterintelligence findings are,” Schiff said, adding that the committee is legally entitled to that information, and that the Justice Department has ignored his requests for it.
Ryan Goodman notes that such information might further illuminate collusion-like behavior that didn’t rise to the level of criminal conspiracy, or reasons for believing that Americans were witting or unwitting Russian assets or were subject to Russian leverage.
Why hasn’t this information been forthcoming? Who is blocking it? Schiff thinks Attorney General William P. Barr and the White House are. All this merits further journalistic scrutiny. And why the blockade, if Mueller found “no collusion” and proved Trump was right all along about the Russian “hoax"?
The subpoena of Donald Trump Jr. The Senate Intelligence Committee — which is chaired by Republican Richard Burr — has subpoenaed Donald Trump Jr. for another appearance. Senators may want to determine whether he previously misled Congress about who knew of the infamous Trump Tower meeting to get dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton, and whether he may have told Trump about it.
Incredibly, this has resulted in Republicans attacking a fellow Republican member of Congress (Burr), which is producing mind-boggling absurdities. Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.), for instance, first said that the subpoena “smacks of politics,” and then buffoonishly clarified that he isn’t accusing Burr in particular of playing politics.
In the background is the question of why Republicans are criticizing one of their own for exercising basic oversight responsibilities, all to defend Trump. Why is this necessary, if the Mueller findings prove “no collusion” and that the Trump Tower meeting was a big nothingburger?
Much of the ongoing discussion of the escalating battles between the administration and congressional Democrats over their oversight efforts strays into political debates — over, say, whether Trump is cleverly trying to bait Democrats into impeaching him.
Less discussed is the bigger question of why Trumpworld has embarked on this maximal resistance strategy in the first place. This perceived imperative has led to a posture that is saturated with ludicrous and disingenuous rationales for rebuffing oversight, and comically ridiculous political contortions from Republicans who are all in on the strategy.
The sum total of all the absurdity here itself underscores the original point. Why go to such enormous lengths to choke off further inquiry in a matter that has been conclusively settled in Trump’s favor?