What a weekend. It began with President Donald Trump walking free after special counsel Robert Mueller turned in his report on Russian tampering with our elections and ended with the arrest of anti-Trump lawyer Michael Avenatti.
The coincidence of those two events offers intriguing evidence in my view that, barring some earthly conspiracy, the Almighty has a sense of humor.
Unfortunately in this case, the laugh is on those of us who thought with undue certainty that Mueller’s investigation of alleged obstruction of justice and collusion by Trump and his presidential campaign with Russians would conclusively confirm some collusion.
The laugh also is on Avenatti, whose flamboyant legal representation of his now-former client, the stripper and porn director Stormy Daniels, made him a Trump nemesis and media star with enough popularity among anti-Trumpists to reveal that he was considering a presidential run.
That option probably closed with his arrest Monday on multiple charges, including an alleged attempt to extort more than $20 million from sports apparel giant Nike. He expects to be exonerated, he said later.
But on the Trump side, we may never hear the end of collusion suspicions about Trump and counter-charges against Democrats and the news-commentary media, especially as long as the full Mueller report is kept secret in the attorney general’s office.
Nevertheless, after Trump was briefed on Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary of the Russia investigation, Trump displayed his usual fondness for modesty and understatement.
Just kidding. Trump actually inflated the Mueller report’s partial exoneration as “a complete and total exoneration.”
That’s half-true. On the charge of collusion, Barr’s summary quotes Mueller as saying no evidence of conspiracy or coordination with Russians by Trump’s campaign was found, but that on the obstruction of justice charge, “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Nevertheless, Trump and other Republican leaders are calling for apologies and congressional hearings into the sources and evolution of the collusion accusation.
Now Mueller tells us that, no, Trump is not a foreign agent. He only behaves like one.
Examples abound. There was his open request during a nationally televised debate for Russia, “if you’re listening,” to release Hillary Clinton’s hacked emails, which hackers tried to release that same day.
And there was the Trump Tower meeting in New York that his son Donald Jr., his son-in-law and senior campaign adviser Jared Kushner, and other senior advisers to his campaign took with an emissary of the Russian government to get dirt on Clinton. Trump Jr. could breathe a sigh of relief. He remained largely untouched by Mueller despite questions about whether he tried to cover up that meeting — at the president’s direction.
And, remember, there was the conversation Kushner had with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition about setting up a secured communications channel through the Russian embassy.
And there were the jaw-dropping photos of Trump’s cheerful discussion of classified information during an Oval Office meeting in May 2017 with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and the Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. Trump defended the disclosures the next day, declaring an “absolute right” to “share” intelligence with Russia.
Now that Mueller’s report is finished, we the public should be able to see it, even if parts must be redacted to maintain grand jury or national security secrets. Americans across party lines understand the value of transparency in our democratic republic. Secrecy only breeds more suspicions and conspiracy theories and weakened confidence in our institutions.
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Writes for Tribune Content Agency.