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Trump cleared? I have questions.
Date: 2019-Mar-24           Author: Rob Dennis
How, you might wonder, can we say a report has cleared a president before we've even seen it, based on a summary from a guy who recently was appointed by that same president?
President Donald Trump and his supporters are taking victory laps based on Attorney General William Barr's narrowly tailored, excruciatingly parsed four-page summary of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
We have no idea what the Mueller report actually says, because we haven't seen it. What we've seen is the Barr report, and even that raises a litany of questions. What it doesn't do is say that the Mueller report found no collusion.
Collusion, as Trump TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani has told us, is not a crime. It's really just a catch-all phrase for Team Trump's shady dealings with numerous people tied to the Kremlin or Russian intelligence, some of which may or may not have been criminal.
We already know quite a lot
We know that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer offering "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in June 2016 as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump."
We also know that, throughout much of the 2016 campaign, Trump associates were dealing with Russian government officials in an effort to jump-start a Trump Tower project in Moscow, at the same time Trump was pushing a pro-Kremlin line and repeatedly lying to the American people about having no business interests in Russia.
We have also learned, thanks to a botched redaction job by Paul Manafort's own defense attorneys, that Trump campaign chairman Manafort and deputy chairman Rick Gates handed over polling data to an associate with links to Russian military intelligence.
And these are just a handful of the shenanigans that were going on in 2016.
The question was whether any of that colluding rose to the level of a crime, and whether Mueller believed he could prove it.
Needless to say, the Barr report never mentions collusion. Instead, it says Mueller did not establish that any campaign official "conspired or knowingly coordinated" with the Internet Research Agency in its interference efforts or "conspired or coordinated" with the Russian government in its hacking campaign.
"Coordination" was narrowly defined as an "agreement - tacit or express - between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference."
Thus the Barr report answers a question nobody really was asking.
If there was "coordination," nobody expected it to be with the Russian government, but rather with cutouts ranging from oligarchs to mobsters to former members of Russian intelligence.
What we really want to know
The main question most of us had, though, was whether Trump was adopting policies and positions (like his anti-NATO stance, or his changing of the Republican Party platform on Ukraine, or his efforts to lift Russian sanctions) in exchange - tacit or express, as Barr would say - for Russian money or help winning the election.
Here are just a few of the questions we really want to know the answers to:
Not one of them is addressed in the Barr report.
Until those questions and many more are answered, House Democrats will have plenty to keep themselves busy with on the Trump-Russia front, not to mention the numerous other corruption scandals swirling around this president and his administration, including one election-related case in which he already essentially has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
So here's one more question: How about in the meantime we avoid getting distracted by false narratives?