Around 11 a.m. on Thursday, Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s much-anticipated report that sought to answer an important question: how bad is our bad president? The specific bad things under review included his 2016 presidential campaign staff being suspiciously cozy with Russian operatives, as well as whether or not he obstructed justice by interfering with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the bad things he may or may not have done. The main takeaway from it all, as The New York Times put it, is that, “While the report does not find that the president or his campaign aides had committed any crimes in their contacts with Russians, it lays bare how Mr. Trump was elected with the help of a foreign power. When a federal inquiry was started to investigate the Russian effort, he took numerous steps to try to undermine it.”
To which I say: fucking duh. Donald Trump and the third-rate political goons and Fox News-brained knuckle-draggers he surrounds himself with are neither smart nor sophisticated enough to have successfully coordinated with a foreign power to hack a presidential election. As the report makes clear, however, the members of the Trump campaign definitely knew someone was trying to undermine Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and they certainly tried to get in touch with high-level Russians with connections to Vladmir Putin, only to be swatted down by more senior campaign officials. The night of Trump’s election, campaign press secretary Hope Hicks got a call from someone with a near-unintelligible Russian accent who then emailed her a message, allegedly passed on from Putin, congratulating Trump on his victory, which may have led to a November 14, 2016 phone conversation between the two (I was too busy reading the report to check Twitter, but I assume that tinfoil-hat types will seize upon this).
In the obstruction department, the report reveals that Trump called White House Counsel Don McGahn at his home number trying to convince him to fire Robert Mueller (he refused, and then refused Trump’s directive to deny that the incident occurred when it leaked to the press). Similarly, Trump attempted to get his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions that he’d get fired if he didn’t get Mueller off Trump’s back (Lewandowski chickened out and asked an aide to deliver the message; that person chickened out too). One of Trump’s lawyers also asked attorneys for Michael Flynn, his former National Security Advisor who was by then cooperating with Mueller’s investigation, to give them “a ‘heads up’ if Flynn knew ‘information that implicates the President’.” Flynn’s lawyers said no, and Trump’s unnamed attorney “said he would make sure that the President knew that Flynn’s actions reflected ‘hostility’ towards the President.” Whether or not these incidents are flagrant offenses that warrant drastic sanctions against the president — think impeachment — remains to be seen.
Beyond that, the report is kind of boring. None of its 450 pages plainly state, “Donald Trump did so many crimes that he has to sit in the Big Trouble Chair and he’s not allowed to be president anymore,” which is what the motley crew of mainstream Democrats and Twitter conspiracists who make up the hashtag-Resistance were hoping for. Instead, we have dozens of pages of dry narratives offering behind-the-scenes perspective on events that already came out in the press. For example, we knew that Russian-backed troll and bot accounts were tweeting like crazy in favor of Trump, but it’s fun to learn that Trump allies such as Sean Hannity, Kellyanne Conway, Michael Flynn, as well as his rock-brained adult sons were retweeting those accounts. It also features this delightfully grainy picture of Trump’s campaign staff having a meeting:
Still, Donald Trump is a truly bizarre egomaniac who as a rule surrounds himself with people even dumber than he is, so it’s not like the report wasn’t going to contain details which, even if they’re not damaging to his presidency, are baffling. We learn, for example, that Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner agreed to a post-election meeting with the boss of Russia’s state-owned bank, who as a show of goodwill, “presented Kushner with two gifts: a painting and a bag of soil from the town in Belarus where Kushner’s family originated.” I would give a million dollars to be able to look at Jared Kushner’s face the moment when he was handed a bag of dirt.
The most devastating blow for me and any other right-thinking person is that it looks like the pee tape was fake. According to a footnote stretching from page 239-240:
On October 30, 2016, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there's anything else. Just so you know…” [...] Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. [...] Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen.
That’s definitely the pee tape, right? If so, well, that’s another dream dashed on the harsh rocks of reality. Other fun stuff to be found in the report includes the fact that in the aftermath of Trump firing Michael Flynn, Flynn visited the Oval Office one last time, where Trump gave him a hug; that Trump once called up Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein to inform him that “he was watching Fox News” (there’s more context there but it’s funnier without it), and that when Trump learned that Special Counsel Mueller had been appointed, he “slumped back in his chair and said, ‘Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.’” That final disclosure, I’m sure, will make cable news pundits across the political spectrum very excited about the prospect of saying the word “fucked” on TV, due to this dumb rule that if the President says a thing the media can quote it directly even if it’s got a swear word in it.
The true tragedy of the Mueller boondoggle is that if the Special Counsel had been given the directive of investigating matters such as Trump’s probable association with money launderers through his real estate and casino businesses, his mob ties, his hush money payments to women with whom he’d had extramarital affairs, or his scam of his charitable foundation, he very well could have hit paydirt. None of those investigations on their own would have had the blockbuster impact of direct evidence of illegal coordination with the Russian government would have, but together, they might have been able to surround Trump with a cloud of impropriety that would have all but assured he’d end up a one-term president. And unlike the Russia stuff, there is actual evidence that Trump has aided money launderers, cultivated Mafia connections for his construction projects, paid for the silence of those who know his secrets, and used his nonprofit as his personal, tax-protected bank account.
The resistance was hoping for a smoking gun, but Donald Trump is not a man who buys his own guns. He sees a commercial for guns in between Lou Dobbs segments and yells at whoever is closest at the time to go get him one from a guy he knows down in Jersey City. Luckily for Donald Trump, nobody in his immediate vicinity seems to have respected him enough to listen.