Speed Reads

Mueller mania

Attorney General William Barr defines Russian 'collusion' pretty narrowly

The obvious highlight for President Trump from Attorney General William Barr's four-page summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation is this sentence from Mueller's report: "[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," expressly or tacitly. Translated by Trump and his circle, that reads: NO COLLUSION.

But "Trump's triumphant supporters notwithstanding, we don't yet know what that means," former federal prosecutor Ken White explains at The Atlantic:

When prosecutors say that an investigation "did not establish" something, that doesn't mean that they concluded it didn't happen, or even that they don't believe it happened. It means that the investigation didn't produce enough information to prove that it happened. Without seeing Mueller's full report, we don't know whether this is a firm conclusion about lack of coordination or a frank admission of insufficient evidence. [Ken White, The Atlantic]

Barr also cites only Mueller's lack of evidence that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with "Russia's government," William Saletan notes at Slate. This would appear to leave out several key interactions with Russians, like Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort secretly giving reams of polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, or Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner meeting in Trump Tower with Kremlin-linked lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, who was purportedly offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Similarly, Barr limits the collusion exculpation to two specific Russian operations: the strategic, targeted manipulation social media and the hacking and dissemination of emails from Clinton's campaign and the Democratic National Committee. Other apparent quid pro quo discussions "between Trump associates and Russians, such as Trump's Moscow tower project and Michael Flynn's secret talks about easing sanctions, have been set aside," Saletan argues. Barr's letter "doesn't show that Trump is innocent of collusion or obstruction. It shows that collusion and obstruction were defined to exclude what he did."