We Don’t Need to Read the Mueller Report

Repost from The New York Times, OPINION

Even if it is never released, the public already knows enough.

By Caroline Fredrickson, March 22, 2019
Ms. Fredrickson is the president of the American Constitution Society.
The exterior of the Department of Justice. The special counsel submitted his report to Attorney General William Barr on Friday.CreditCreditJoshua Roberts/Reuters

People lie to hide the truth. They lie to hide crimes. And while everyone is dying for a peek at Robert Mueller’s bombshell report to see if he says any crimes were committed by the Trump campaign in 2016, the truth is actually already out there, hidden in plain sight.

Mr. Mueller’s report may never go public, but we don’t need a peek at the recommendations he delivered on Friday to Attorney General William Barr to credibly assess that something unethical and likely illegal went on in 2016. The repeated lies told by Trump campaign staff members — lies about their connections to Russian figures — already spin a grand tale of conspiracy and deceit. And it’s a tale so suspect and sordid that President Trump and his associates felt the need to lie to hide it from law enforcement.

This is not conjecture; some of Mr. Trump’s people are already in jail, having been convicted in federal court for lying to investigators about their connections to and interactions with Russians during the 2016 campaign. Others have pleaded guilty to similar crimes, which — it bears repeating — is what one does when presented with overwhelming evidence of one’s guilt. Still others await trial. Many more have been indicted.

There’s the top Trump campaign official Paul Manafort, who is serving time for lying about his history of lobbying for Russian interests and sharing Trump campaign polling data with a Russian intelligence asset during the campaign.

And there’s the close Trump associate Roger Stone, recently indicted on charges of lying about communications he had with Wikileaks before it released damaging information about Hillary Clinton that law enforcement believes was stolen by Russian hackers.

The former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is headed to jail after admitting that he lied to Congress about a business deal Mr. Trump was pursuing with Russian figures throughout the 2016 campaign, lies Mr. Trump himself echoed on the campaign trail.

Michael Flynn, the president’s former national security adviser, is doing time after admitting to making false statements to the F.B.I. to conceal December 2016 communications with Russia regarding the sanctions on Russia imposed by the Obama administration.

Lastly, there is George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the campaign, who arguably helped precipitate the investigation when he bragged about his knowledge of Russian “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton to an Australian diplomat who then alerted the F.B.I. Mr. Papadopoulos subsequently pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and is behind bars.

Then there is the president himself.

From the outset, Mr. Trump’s approach to the Mueller investigation has been characterized by paranoia and fear. With his increasingly shrill denials, the president comes across more as someone who fears he will be found out than someone convinced of his innocence.

And he has lied to the American people.

The president’s version of events regarding his campaign’s interactions with Russia has changed repeatedly since the investigation began. From early assertions during his campaign that he had no business interests in Russia, to claims about his role in issuing false statements about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians, the president has been caught in numerous, verifiable lies on this issue. It just remains to be seen whether he lied to cover up actual criminal activity, including conspiring with a foreign power to sway an election, or working to obstruct investigations into those ties.

Ideally, Mr. Barr will share Mr. Mueller’s report with the country. But if he elects to withhold it, President Trump will no doubt claim victory. He will no doubt treat the absence of an indictment as full vindication. But here’s a truth for the president: He was never going to be indicted. The Department of Justice has a longstanding policy against indicting a sitting president, and the absence of an indictment does not mean no evidence of conspiracy or obstruction was found.
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Paul Krugman did explanatory journalism before it was cool, moving from a career as a world-class economist to writing hard-hitting opinion columns.

Robert MuellerCreditTom Williams/CQ Roll Call

Indeed, Mr. Mueller’s report may not be the end of the president’s legal peril, only the beginning. That’s because report or no report, through his prosecutions, referrals, indictments, convictions and subpoenas, Mr. Mueller has already provided the House of Representative with some very clear paths for investigation.

So even if the Mueller report simply gets tossed in a drawer in Mr. Barr’s desk for all eternity, there is already sufficient material out there to let the House exercise its newly rediscovered oversight responsibilities and get to the bottom of what happened between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election.

Remember, Richard Nixon was not indicted, and there was no commensurate special counsel report in the Watergate scandal. There doesn’t need to be one here to right wrongs so egregious they were apparently worth lying about.