We always knew the full 400-page report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller probing possible Trump campaign collusion with Russia during the 2016 election would be a lot dicier for the president than Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary. Barr’s letter to Congress, released earlier this month, was in many ways his own interpretation of Mueller’s investigation. And in the AG’s own telling, Trump was free and clear: no collusion with the Russians and no actions which would rise to the standard of an obstruction of justice offence. Trump, who has called the entire 22-month Mueller inquiry a hoax, witch-hunt, and con-job from the very first day Mueller was appointed, declared a “complete and total exoneration.”
Now Americans and indeed the world can read the actual report (or at least the sections that haven’t been redacted) for themselves. It’s a doozy of a story that puts the president in a far more conflicting light. At times, you almost feel sympathetic for Trump’s naiveté and inexperience in how Washington works. As Barr explained during his short press conference before the report’s disclosure, Trump was undergoing unprecedented strain from the moment he stepped into the White House. He was like a caged animal being poked with a stick by federal prosecutors with unlimited resources and a wide mandate.
Trump comes across as somebody with terrible judgment. When White House chief political strategist Steve Bannon learned about the president’s January 27, 2017 dinner invitation to FBI Director James Comey in the White House residence, Bannon tried to convince Trump not to meet with him alone. Trump declined and decided to go ahead with the dinner, which would lead to the infamous loyalty-pledge. One doesn’t have to be a career bureaucrat in Washington to understand that meeting with the top law enforcement investigator in the country and talking about the target of an active FBI investigation (in this case, Trump’s own national security adviser at the time) would be an idiotic and legally perilous thing to do. Trump, however, took the chance anyway. Left unsaid in the report is the president’s motivations in reaching out to Comey; Trump probably believed he could butter up his FBI director into dropping the investigation and letting Michael Flynn off the hook.
We learned about Trump’s desperate attempts to persuade former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to unrecuse himself from the Russia investigation, including tasking his White House Counsel Don McGahn to forcefully make the case. Trump viewed the Attorney General as his own personal protector from legal jeopardy rather than America’s chief law enforcement officer. Sessions told McGhan he was sticking with the recusal. And Trump was livid, harassing Sessions until the day the exhausted and abused AG resigned.
We learned that Don Jr., Trump’s eldest son, has about as much sense as a rich lady walking in a crime-ridden neighbourhood with a Dolce and Gabbana handbag. How else to describe someone who chooses to interact with Julian Assange’s Wikileaks in the heat of a presidential campaign? Again, this shouldn’t be hard stuff to avoid.
There is simply too much material in the hundreds of pages to digest. But the report paints a clear picture of an exasperated and panicked president who believed he is under assault from his own executive branch. The panic ensued even before he was sworn in when Comey walked into Trump Tower and briefed the president-elect about Christopher Steele’s dossier of alleged dirty deeds. At that minute, Trump began to view the intelligence community, the Justice Department, and organs of the deep-state as dishonourable blackmailers trying to put the squeeze on him.
The political turmoil in Washington will be at a fever pitch over the next 24-48 hours. Some Democrats who were previously reluctant to talk about impeachment proceedings may have enough in the report to change their minds. The news media will have their fun, picking out key quotes and flashing them on the screen. The president’s diehard supporters in Congress will close ranks around the president and try to change the subject—perhaps by pushing to investigate the investigators. And Washington, already nutty, will get even nuttier.