On Thursday, to much fanfare, Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russia’s attempt to hack the election for Donald Trump. However, what was released to the public contains details of the evidence that suggested Trump interfered with the investigation. It spells out no fewer than ten “episodes” in which Trump potentially obstructed justice by interfering with the probe before and after Mueller took over.
And yet, Trump would still like us to believe that this report was an exoneration.
It was a line echoed, with few exceptions, by most of Trump’s diehards. Among them was Franklin Graham. Within hours of the report’s release, he took to Facebook and Twitter to tell the Democrats–or rather, tell his followers to tell the Democrats–to back off.
Okay, Franklin. I’ll play. Let’s review the definition of “chaff,” shall we? Apparently Graham is accusing Trump’s critics of trolling for “something comparatively worthless.” But consider what’s in that “haystack of information” that the public saw for the first time today. That haystack contains numerous instances where Trump and his aides sailed very close to the line of obstruction of justice, and in some cases may have indeed interfered with the investigation.
The report reveals that Trump repeatedly attempted to have Mueller removed–at least as early as a month after Mueller took over the investigation. However, his aides refused to carry out orders that they felt crossed the line. For instance, White House counsel Don McGahn resigned rather than comply with Trump’s order to fire Mueller, and at least two aides refused to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to fire Mueller.
Another potentially damning example came soon after Trump took office, when then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was under fire for his contacts with the Kremlin’s ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak. Trump ordered Flynn’s deputy, K. T. McFarland, to write an email stating that Trump did not order those conversations. However, McFarland balked because she was not sure such an email would be true.
Additionally, Trump called then-FBI Director James Comey at least twice after Comey disclosed that an investigation was underway–even though McGahn advised him against doing so. He also tried to pressure Sessions into wresting back control of the investigation from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, but Sessions refused. And of course, there’s Trump’s claim that his firing of Comey took a lot of Russia-related pressure off of him.
On a number of occasions, Mueller concluded that Trump interfered to the point of meeting all of the elements of obstruction under federal law. Indeed, according to Politico’s Josh Gerstein and Darren Samuelsohn, Mueller appears to have come very close to making an exception to longstanding Justice Department policy against indicting sitting presidents. They believe that the only reason Mueller didn’t recommend indicting Trump was because his aides refused to carry out some of his more egregious and blatantly illegal directives. It should be noted that Mueller clearly left the door open for Congress to conclude there was obstruction.
In other words, this is hardly chaff. And Graham is being disingenuous at best in dismissing this as chaff. Based on the reaction on Twitter, Democratic pundits and lawmakers definitely don’t see it as chaff. At least one Democratic lawmaker, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, thinks the conduct spelled out in the report is egregious enough that she’s pressing for an impeachment inquiry.
We’ve known for some time that Graham has forgotten the lesson his father learned when he got too close to Richard Nixon–and nearly brought down his ministry as a result. His casual dismissal of the evidence that Trump interfered in a criminal investigation puts that beyond any doubt. In a sane world, this statement would go down in infamy. And in a sane world, it would spell finis to any moral authority Graham has left.
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