Exonerated? As usual, Trump is making it up

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In tweets over the past week, President Donald Trump repeated his contention that the mainstream media is the enemy of the people, and said the New York Times’ and Washington Post’s Pulitzers should be stripped. | AP Photo

So Trump says the Mueller report proves his innocence: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.”

As usual, he’s making it up.

Nobody outside the Justice Department has seen the Mueller report yet. But even Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of the evidence regarding obstruction of justice specifically quotes its author: “(W)hile this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”


The word “collusion” appears nowhere in Barr’s summary. He does write that “the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

Here’s something else the Trump campaign didn’t do: They didn’t report any of those multiple offers by a hostile foreign power to the FBI. That in itself constitutes a profound betrayal. Indeed, history records that Trump himself vociferously and repeatedly denied what U.S. intelligence agencies said was definitive evidence of Russian skulduggery. “It could be Russia … It also could be somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” the candidate claimed during one presidential debate. Trump’s strange obsequiousness toward Vladimir Putin continues to this day.

His campaign knew all about Russian hacks of Democratic National Committee emails; that much has been proven beyond a doubt. At minimum, they sat on their hands. Reading between the lines of Barr’s summary, it’s clear that the Mueller report endorses the central finding of the intelligence community: The Russians actively worked to help Trump win the 2016 election. We should be asking ourselves why.

What did Russia hope to gain?

Conspiracy, of course, is a notoriously difficult crime to prove. It becomes almost impossible when one party to a corrupt bargain is beyond the law: that is, resides in Russia and isn’t being made available to investigators.

Which is not to say that a cunning rogue like Donald Trump was ever going to enter into a quid pro quo arrangement with the Russian government and leave fingerprints. It was always naive to think that he might. The president famously doesn’t write things down. These things are done with winks and nudges. What’s said and what’s not said.

A Kremlin intermediary offers “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Donald Jr. is dumb enough to write, “I love it,” and to take a meeting — the famous June 2016 session at Trump Tower with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya — but Donald Sr. remains offstage. In the building, but not at the meeting.

What’s more, Veselnitskaya isn’t technically a member of the Russian government. Neither, however, has she visited the United States since her name first surfaced in The New York Times. Sure, the president helped Junior concoct a fake cover story, but it has never been a crime to lie to the press.

This too: Insufficient evidence to prove a criminal conspiracy isn’t the same as no evidence. As shrewdly as Attorney General Barr has played his hand so far, that’s worth keeping in mind. We’ll find out how Trump triumphalism looks after people have read the actual report, although the necessity of reading and thinking about a complex document with Sean Hannity screaming in our collective ears will certainly limit the Mueller report’s impact.

It’s also worth remembering that there are all sorts of dishonorable actions that aren’t crimes. For example, it’s not a crime for a man to have an affair with his sister-in-law, but it’s contemptible all the same. As Michael Kinsley once quipped, “The scandal isn’t what’s illegal; the scandal is what’s legal.”

I agree with The Atlantic’s Franklin Foer that the single most unsettling revelation of the entire investigation is the one that fixer Michael Cohen is going to prison for lying to Congress about: Trump Tower Moscow.

Trump himself repeatedly and shamelessly lied about the project throughout the presidential campaign, praising Vladimir Putin at every turn, and falsely claiming to have no business dealings whatsoever in Russia while standing to profit by hundreds of millions had it gone through.

But once again, he didn’t do it under oath, and it’s not a crime to lie to American voters. Even if by so doing he exposed himself to potential Russian blackmail. Had Trump not behaved himself, Putin could have pulled the plug on his presidential campaign in a heartbeat. Trump behaved.

Franklin Foer: “Trump’s motive for praising Putin appears to have been, in large part, commercial. With his relentless pursuit of Trump Tower Moscow, the Republican nominee for president had active commercial interests in Russia that he failed to disclose to the American people. … Trump ran his campaign as something of an infomercial, hoping to convince the Russians that he was a good partner. To enrich himself, Trump promised to realign American foreign policy.”

“Total EXONERATION,” the man says.

I don’t think so.

Send letters to: letters@suntimes.com.

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