You know your government is veering dangerously close to tyrannical when leaders begin hiding the truth from constituents. Chinese censorship masks news regarding protests and collective action. North Korean suppression prevents outside information from entering the country. American officials conduct comprehensive investigations of leading officials, then attempt to redact key details before releasing such reports to the public.
What are these governments withholding from their constituencies? And more importantly, why?
The 400-page Mueller report is the result of one of the most consequential government investigations in American history. After the release of the report, Attorney General Bill Barr’s subsequent decision to summarize the report was a condescending imposition of his own interpretation – and perhaps, of Trump’s interpretation – on the American populace. The public deserves the right to interpret the materials themselves.
Widespread dissent is evident in the House Judiciary Committee’s approval of a subpoena for the unredacted report. Even more, such dissent resounds in demands for an unadulterated version of the Mueller report. A new poll conducted between March 24 and 26 revealed that 56% of Republicans, 60% of independents and 84% of Democrats favor releasing all of Mueller’s findings. Even higher was the 100% consensus when the House voted for the non-binding resolution that called on Barr to release the report.
While some have argued that requests for access are a partisan effort to discredit the president, Mueller’s investigators have expressed that Barr “failed to adequately portray the findings of their inquiry” and were more incriminating for President Trump than Barr indicated. In consolidating a 400-page report to four pages, Barr excluded key aspects of the report, especially as he only briefly cited the Special Counsel’s work and refused to release the investigators’ summaries of their findings.
The Mueller report indeed confirms that Trump did not conspire with Russia. But it does not exonerate him of everything for which he was investigated.
The question of obstruction of justice is still up in the air, and as Trump’s political appointee, Barr is not the most even-handed person to answer that question. Before Trump installed him as the new Attorney General, Barr published a memo describing that the President alone is the executive branch and that “no limit is placed on the kinds of cases subject to his control and supervision.” In other words, Barr’s views of executive power leave Trump with nearly a free hand.
The Mueller report has to be more damaging than Barr lets on. For one, Trump’s initial encouragement that the report be released in full has shifted, as he recently backpedaled from his initial calls for the Mueller report to be released to Congress and the public. This may be due to early indications that, despite the lack of criminal conspiracy, the report suggested the Trump campaign interfered with the investigation and was even manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.
Barr has cited various reasons for maintaining the confidentiality of the report: sensitive information within it, a Justice Department precedent to keep private any negative information uncovered during investigations, and a desire not to repeat Former Director of the FBI James Comey’s treatment of Hillary Clinton in 2016.
Nevertheless, this is not just any criminal investigation. The investigation of a United States President holds global significance and affects every decision made in national government. The precedent for Justice Department investigations of presidents is unique, as the investigations of former Presidents Clinton and Nixon eventually released grand jury material to the public. As House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler said, the “Constitution charges Congress with holding the president accountable for alleged official misconduct” – even if that involves releasing the results of the investigation.
More dangerous than the mere withholding of the Mueller report is that Barr has the power to control the narrative of the Special Counsel’s findings. Although there is the chance that the report will eventually go public, the longer the delay, the more likely that Barr’s depiction of Trump will settle as the official view of the truth.
The Mueller report contains information the public is entitled to know now. Outside of the Russia debacle, the American constituency and United States Congress should be privy to their President’s behavior. Even if Trump didn’t break with the law, the Mueller report may outline things he may have done with his power that are important knowledge for the American populace.
America prides itself on its democracy. If we truly aren’t the land of despotism, then we ought to know what the Mueller report says – unadulterated, unredacted and unbiased
Nancy Pelosi put it well: “Show us the report and we can draw our own conclusions.”
Contact Tashrima Hossain at thossain ‘at’ stanford.edu.