[NOTE: On Mar. 27, 2019, this post appeared at Dan Rather’s News & Guts.]
As Trump tweets false claims of “EXONERATION,” the nation is entering the most dangerous phase of the Trump-Russia story. Beware of headlines and sound bites surrounding Attorney General William Barr’s summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. In the language of baseball, the Trump-Russia saga has just entered the middle innings.
Even before Mueller’s appointment, Trump tried to frustrate the investigation into his presidential campaign. As Attorney General William Barr describes the potential obstruction of justice charge against Trump, “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”
So the question remains: Why did Trump do it?
Facts Still Matter
The Trump-Russia Timeline first appeared three months before Trump fired James Comey, which is what led to Mueller’s appointment. From the outset, its purpose was to provide a vehicle for organizing and accessing undisputed facts, allowing citizens to pierce through the fog of Trump’s ongoing lies, diversions, distractions, and chaos.
Although Mueller has now come and gone, federal investigations that he referred to US attorneys across the country continue. In the coming weeks and months, trials, congressional investigations, and state inquiries will proceed as the story unfolds on core Trump-Russia topics that Barr’s summary doesn’t even mention. They include Trump Tower-Moscow negotiations with Russian bankers and developers during the campaign, the relationship between Russia’s assistance in Trump’s election and Putin’s search for relief from US sanctions, secret backchannels with Putin, and more.
The public’s understanding of the scandal is woefully incomplete. And make no mistake: Even Barr’s summary effort to exonerate Trump confirms that it’s a scandal of unprecedented scope.
“It Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over”
Prominent former Trump confidants and campaign officials are now convicted felons. Trump’s defenders emphasize that many were prosecuted for lying to federal investigators, so their crimes have nothing to do with Trump. But what were they lying about? Trump-Russia contacts.
Trump loyalists also boast that many high-profile targets in Trump’s inner circle weren’t indicted — a remarkably shallow victory. But consider what the reaction would have been if all of Mueller’s federal charges against these 34 individuals and three companies had landed on the same day his report went to Attorney General William Barr:
- Trump’s former campaign chairman (Paul Manafort — convicted; sentenced to 7.5 years in prison)
- Trump’s deputy campaign chairman (Rick Gates — pled guilty; agreed to cooperate)
- Trump’s national security adviser (Mike Flynn — pled guilty; agreed to cooperate)
- Trump’s personal attorney (Michael Cohen — pled guilty; cooperating)
- Trump’s foreign policy adviser (George Papadopoulos — pled guilty)
- Trump’s long time friend and campaign surrogate (Roger Stone — trial pending)
- Dozens of Russian officials, citizens, and entities who helped Trump win the election by hacking into Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails, by using WikiLeaks to disseminate them, and by relying on fake social media accounts to divide Americans (trials pending).
Keep all of that in mind as Trump and his defenders spin the Trump-Russia story as a hoax or a witch hunt.
Avoiding Trump Fatigue
As Trump battles to save his presidency and, perhaps, his post-presidential freedom, the spin will become overwhelming. It will make the struggle to keep track of important Trump-Russia developments more difficult. No one knows where the trail of truth will lead, but with the 2020 election on the horizon, the burden now falls on every American to follow it to the end.
As Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, someone asked, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?”
Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”
Now is the moment Franklin had in mind.
Here’s a complete list of the latest updates to the Trump-Russia Timeline:
FEB. 19, 2019: Trump Announces Intent to Nominate Rosenstein’s Replacement (revision of previous entry)
JUL. 18, 2017: Mueller Gets Search Warrant On Cohen
MAR. 18, 2019: Trump Tweets Fox News Clips Attacking ‘Russia Hoax’
MAR. 20, 2019: White House Stonewalling House Oversight Committee
MAR. 20, 2019: Trump Attacks Comey, Clinton
MAR. 22, 2019: Mueller Submits Report to Bar
MAR 24, 2019: Barr Issues Summary of Mueller Report
MAY 24, 2019: Trump Claims ‘Total Exoneration’