Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before Congress this week showed that two years of Democrat hopes that Special Counsel Robert Mueller would end the Donald Trump presidency won’t die easily. As Democrats peppered the legal veteran with questions seeking to portray him as obstructing their justified quest for proof that Mueller might have found some evidence that Trump is guilty of something, they were not so much undermining the country’s belief that it’s time to move on from this fantasy as a displaying self-destructive impulse that might ultimately undo their hopes to oust the president in 2020.
The Democratic Party absorbed a hard blow when the news broke about the Mueller investigation determining there was no collusion with Russia involving the president or his campaign. The prosecutor whom the Democratic faithful were sure would make the bad dream of 2016 go away failed them. After investing so much emotional energy in the notion that the Trump presidency would be proved illegitimate and even illegal, accepting the truth wasn’t easy.
Expecting members of Congress like House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff to apologize for their false accusations and fueling of conspiracy theories about Trump and Russia was not realistic. Nor was it ever likely that the media/entertainment wing of their party would walk back their considerable contributions to Democrat voters’ expectation of Trump’s inevitable doom at Mueller’s hands.
So it is hardly surprising that, in the weeks since Barr’s summary of Mueller’s conclusions was made public, the response from those who did the most to spread the assumption that Trump’s guilt was obvious has been neither contrite nor sober.
Minimal Contrition Needed
After a day or two of confusion, Democrats found a fallback position. The failure to indict a single American citizen for colluding with the Russians in 2016 and the summary of Mueller’s conclusions made it clear that the conspiracy theory about Trump being a Russian asset or plotting with Moscow to steal the election from Hillary Clinton was a fantasy. But collusion theorists still had a last ditch to fall back into to defend their evaporating hopes.
The release of the full Mueller report was delayed due to the attorney general’s duty to redact classified information—confidential grand jury testimony and items relating to ongoing investigations, as well as material that might implicate or otherwise damage the reputations for peripheral third parties that were innocent of any wrongdoing in the case.
This is exactly what Democrats called for a generation ago when the special prosecutor’s office led by Kenneth Starr released the results of its investigation into President Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct and related perjury. But to those trying to hold onto hope that Mueller could damage Trump, it has provided an opening, albeit a narrow one.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler demanded that Congress be given the entire report without redactions and even set an April 2 deadline for Barr to deliver it. Barr ignored the demand and now the committee has issued a subpoena for the material.
The Redactions Are Indeed Necessary
The argument against giving Congress the full report without the redactions is as obvious as it is appropriate. Congress is an informational sieve. The chances that this material will be kept secret are approximately zero. Barr might as well publish every classified secret or page of grand jury testimony himself as give it to Nadler.
A redacted report would still deliver all relevant material to both the Congress and the public to explain how Mueller managed to spend two years investigating Trump without discovering anything that would lead to a single collusion-related indictment, let alone even coming to a conclusion about the preposterous charge that the president obstructed justice by exercising his constitutional right to fire an out-of-control FBI director. Yet it also leaves Democrats and their media/entertainment complex cheering section an opening to keep their conspiracy theories alive. They would do far better to ignore this impulse.
The demand for the full report has already led to charges from the likes of MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and writers like Esquire’s Charles Pierce that the longer Barr holds onto the report, the less they will trust what is released. That is true even though Mueller and his staff are working with Barr on the redactions.
Almost on cue, various anonymous sources who claimed to know those working on the Mueller probe were telling The New York Times and the Washington Post that some of the special counsel’s staff were unhappy with Barr’s summary even though their failure to indict anyone for collusion spoke even louder than his four pages about the collapse of the Russian conspiracy theory.
In due time, doubtless the late-night comedians and the “Saturday Night Live” cast will also take up this theme. The redactions will become like a pirate’s buried treasure or a lost Romanov heir that will haunt Democrats’ imaginations with greater power with each passing week that the left promotes the notion that Barr is holding back some nugget that will damage or even destroy the Trump presidency.
Nadler’s effort will be adjudicated in the courts, where the battle will, no doubt, drag on for months and perhaps well into the 2020 presidential campaign. But rather than an ongoing problem for Trump, it will be a blessing in disguise.
The Mueller Report Can Still Answer Democrats’ Prayers
On a human level, it’s understandable that those who not only believed in the Trump collusion theory, but also thought it would ultimately solve the nation’s problems, refuse to give up their faith. The Republican’s victory in 2016 was so unexpected and shocking that for some it was easier to accept as having only been made possible by foul play rather than merely the result of 30 states’ voters deciding to choose Trump rather than Clinton.
Yet the willingness of responsible politicians and opinion influencers in media and entertainment to give credence to this particular conspiracy will do material harm to their hopes that Trump will be limited to one term in office. It may be that most Americans have long since made up their minds about Trump and nothing will budge them from positions of abhorrence or support. But now that the verdict on collusion is in, most Americans would prefer if the governing and chattering classes moved on.
So long as the anti-Trump resistance is focused on their faith that he is a criminal who must be frog-marched in handcuffs out of the White House rather than just a vulgar politician who has surprisingly embraced conservative political stands, Democrats will be distracted from the issues voters care most about. Rather than engaging the energy of Trump-haters, dragging out the search for evidence of a conspiracy that can never be proved will dispirit and discourage them, even if the exercise will serve as a kind of collective group therapy to soothe their still raw wounds from Trump’s triumph.
More to the point, the Mueller probe is now a source of strength for Trump. By questioning Trump’s innocence in collusion after Mueller failed to prove his guilt, Democrats are ensuring that this failure isn’t forgotten amid debates about health care, immigration, and other issues where they have arguments rather than unhinged conspiracy theories about treason to hurl at him.
If Trump critics want to put this debacle behind them, they must stop talking about Barr and Mueller. The alternative is to keep alive an issue that will fire up the GOP base and undermine Democrats’ credibility with voters who are unlikely to be willing to go on following them down the collusion rabbit hole.