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Above: Democrats in the Congress will keep up the pressure on Trump by seeking the full report/Photo: UNI

While the Robert Mueller report “does not conclude that the President Donald Trump committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him”

By Kenneth Tiven in Washington

Imagine Saleem Sinai and his companion, Padma, redacted from Salman Rushdie’s sweeping historical novel Midnight’s Children. You gain a sense of what happened in 1947 at Independence, but lose much of the conflict and humanity that makes the story compelling. With the release late last week of a heavily redacted version of the Mueller special probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 US election, we are treated to what is, at best, a neutered history of the investigation. By massively redacting critical information that might help Americans make up their minds about Trump and Russia, this becomes, yet again, a “description of the actual report”.

In his pre-release news conference, Attorney General William Barr came across as the defender of President Donald Trump, not as the chief law enforcement officer of the nation. Americans are still left in the dark. Barr, a former Republican attorney general, did similar work for two previous Republican presidents and was specifically appointed by President Trump to handle this problem.

The key points readily discernible seem short of the “exoneration” Trump keeps claiming.

  • Mueller did not establish prosecutable “collusion”, but says Trump knew Russian meddling helped.
  • The redacted report describes 10 instances in which Trump may have obstructed justice by using his authority to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation. The Mueller analysis of the obstruction of justice is far more complex, nuanced, and unfavourable to the president than what Barr portrayed publicly.
  • “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion,” Mueller wrote, citing extensive ties between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials. “The links included Russian offers of assistance to the campaign,” he wrote. “In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away.” Ultimately, Mueller wrote, his probe did not find that Trump campaign officials had participated in an illegal conspiracy to influence the outcome of the 2016 election.

Perhaps the most candid part of the report not redacted is what Trump had to say when, on May 17, 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller was appointed:  “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f…..d.” Those were the president’s first remarks to then Attorney General Jeff Sessions when the AG informed Trump of Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s decision to appoint Mueller, according to notes written by Jody Hunt, then Sessions’ chief of staff.

The flash summary last month of this 448-page document was just four pages long and claimed there was insufficient evidence of campaign conspiracy or presidential obstruction. The release of the redacted report, however, is unlikely to end demands for even more information, as Congressional Democrats have indicated they would press for an unredacted version.

A major question the redacted released version does not answer is how much more information would have been enough for Mueller to conclude affirmatively on crucial issues. The redaction is said to have been applied in order to avoid revealing:

  • Grand jury information subject to secrecy rules.
  • Material that intelligence officials fear could compromise sources.
  • Information critical to investigations spun off from the Mueller inquiry. This includes probes of the Trump inaugural committee finances and hush payments covering up a Trump sex scandal that already has sent his former lawyer to prison.
  • Material that might unfairly infringe on the privacy and reputations of “peripheral third parties”.

Is it then a useful report or merely a blank journal?

— The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels

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