America ordered an encyclopedia, but got a pamphlet. From the small amount of information that has leaked, it appears that the actual report delivered by Robert Mueller is 100 times larger than the “summary” that Attorney General William Barr tossed to Congress barely more than a day after the special counsel handed over an over-300 page document.
Democrats have been pointing this out from the moment that Barr’s brief letter appeared, and warning about it since before it appeared. In the meantime, Republicans have used the very narrowly defined and tightly worded letter to not just proclaim Trump innocent, but call everyone who ever raised a concern about his actions a liar—going so far as to call for the resignation of House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff.
But after days of running headlines that include the phrase “the Mueller report says … ,“ it seems that the New York Times has finally noticed it hasn’t seen the Mueller report. On Friday, the Times admitted that the length of the actual report suggests that Mueller “went well beyond” simply handing over a tally sheet of indictments, and that the brevity of Barr’s memo raises questions about “what Mr. Barr might have left out.” Yes. Thanks for noticing.
After months of predicting that the report would be out any day now. Any day now. Any. Day. Now. Many in the media seem to have been so relieved at the word that Mueller had finally handed something over to Barr, that they moved straight on to reporting about Republicans reveling in how the Mueller report absolved Trump of every sin ever, without pausing to note that they had never seen the Mueller report. But still, the Times nods along with the proposal that Barr is going to spend weeks reworking the material he has into another summary, and then run this summary past the White House for redactions, calling such a course “not unusual” while admitting that it would “most likely create another tranche of material from Mr. Mueller’s investigation to be withheld from Congress.”
Devin Nunes, who, just hours before the Barr letter sent him dancing, announced that he wanted to burn the Mueller report, may not quite get his wish technically. But he’s getting the same effect. Because Republicans are hiding behind the Barr letter and running out the clock—and the longer they wait, the less chance there is that Mueller’s actual results will ever appear in public.
In the wake of the dismemberment and murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Jared Kushner had some sage advice on how to handle the situation. As someone who had slipped through a seemingly endless number of scandals, Kushner told Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman to simply stay quiet and wait. The media would move on. The public would forget. The problem would go away.
Republicans aren’t quite taking that approach on the Mueller report. They’re too busy arranging stunts in which envelopes filled with “evidence of collusion” turn out to be empty, yucking along to Trump’s description of Adam Schiff as a pencil-necked geek, and fighting over getting their share of told-you-so time on Fox.
But when it comes to dealing with the process, running out the clock on public interest is exactly the game Republicans are playing. As the Times article notes, Republicans have “adopted a … trusting of Mr. Barr, indicating that they believe he will make appropriate judgments about what should and should not be shared.” So, weeks from now, meaning months, Barr will produce a longer version of his letter, one carefully vetted by Trump’s White House team to make sure it contains the information that Trump brushes after every meal and averages of a score of seventeen on each round of golf.
Barr has not released the report. Barr does not intend to release the report. Not now. Not ever. That is the first and only reason that Barr, who cut his teeth hiding the truth about executive branch scandals, is parked in the attorney general slot in the first place. Trump understood than when he picked Barr. Republicans understood that when they confirmed him.
Republicans might not have struck a literal match, but they are burning the Mueller report day by day. With every day that passes, the impact of the report diminishes, and the story created by Barr’s purpose-built letter sets in more firmly. When, if ever, the details of the report do appear, they risk being a historical curiosity with no more impact than the details of Iran-Contra that appeared years after the fact.
There may be no smoking gun in the information provided by Robert Mueller, no solid collection of evidence that demands indictment or impeachment. But we do not know this. What Republicans know is that the longer they can keep that information under wraps, the less impact it will have. After all, most Americans already believe they’ve seen the Mueller report—how could they not, after days of headlines that start with “the Mueller report says…”?