May 23, 2019

Mueller Didn't Know What He Was Up Against

“Someday, when we’re sitting around the electronic campfires we’ve lit to pretend-warm the huts in our Mars colonies, we will tell our grandchildren about whatever vestigial memories we have of facts. Perhaps we will be able to date their demise to the 46-ish hours between the announcement on Friday, March 22, 2019, that Robert Mueller had submitted his final report to Attorney General William Barr, and the letter Barr released on Sunday, March 24, 2019, which purported to summarize its contents and legal conclusions entirely.

In those 46 hours, there were exactly two facts known: that nobody else had been indicted by Mueller, and that Barr did not find any proposed action by Mueller to be “inappropriate or unwarranted.” That was, quite literally, all we knew. And into that void—that absence of facts—swept the spin. On Fox News, the declamation came forth that there had been an actual finding, of, what else, “no collusion.” Indeed, as Justin Peters noted, the television news station that exists exclusively to protect and defend the president’s preferred narrative declared, without basis in any publicly known or knowable fact, that it was “No Collusion Day!” While every other network was trying to parse out scenarios and future outcomes, and carefully explaining that nothing definitive had been shared with the public, conservative media and congressional Republicans were already claiming that the facts had been amassed, and assessed and released, and supported their cause. Were they clairvoyant? Did they have some insider information? No, they just had the special feeling they get at Fox: The facts are not material to the claim. In the absence of any knowable facts, Republicans declare victory and invent their own. In the absence of any knowable facts, Democrats declare defeat.

By the time Barr’s summary of the Mueller report—reportedly hundreds of pages condensed into just four—was released on Sunday afternoon, the fact-free claims had already congealed into hardened conclusions. There had been no crimes, no conspiracies, no bad acts committed. Sarah Huckabee Sanders announced that the Justice Department had produced “a total and complete exoneration” of the president. (This was false). So did the president. By continuing to use the word collusion, which is legally meaningless, the GOP continues to distract from what the probe was really about and to elide any discussion of what an equivocal finding on obstruction really means. In the absence of facts, Republicans invent the words they need to claim victory. In the absence of facts, Democrats roll over.”

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