Editorial: To move on, let's elevate level of debate over Russia investigation

  • A copy of the letter from Attorney General William Barr advising Congress of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

    A copy of the letter from Attorney General William Barr advising Congress of the principal conclusions reached by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Associated Press Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted3/26/2019 12:12 AM

To say that the Russia collusion controversy is all over but for the shouting has a certain ring of truth, but is also profoundly premature. We do need to see more than the hastily produced summary Attorney General William Barr sent to Congress, and, sadly, there is sure to be an awful lot of shouting still to come.

Perhaps the most important and the most comforting consequence of the special counsel's "Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election" is the definitive determination that our president did not conspire with the nation's enemies.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

That reassurance alone emphasizes the importance, in a period of widespread suspicion from all sides, of the work conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team. The president has derided the process from the beginning and now deftly manages to criticize it while simultaneously basking in the credibility of its findings. Meanwhile, some of his political opponents seem all but dismayed that a report by an investigator with Mueller's reputation for integrity didn't arrive at more-damaging conclusions. The Mueller report has demonstrated its value precisely because of both those interpretive reactions. For, it makes clear that the central issues at play here are political, not legal.

That point says a lot about what it means to -- as Channahon Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger urged -- "move on."

To be sure, the Southern District of New York may have its own contributions to make to the president's legal troubles, but on the questions that Mueller was directed to answer, the investigation achieved precisely what it was intended to achieve -- and more when you consider the 34 people, including some of the president's top aides, who have been convicted or still face charges in unrelated cases stemming from evidence the Mueller investigation unearthed.

Very few people deny Russian meddling in the 2016 election, thanks largely to evidence turned up by Mueller. But the nation did have questions about the Trump campaign's involvement and about whether the president obstructed justice. We now have answers, more or less, to those questions.

They are not entirely conclusive -- notably on the matter of obstruction. And, for that reason alone, among many others, the full report, redacted for security issues, should be released so that the debate of the president's actions can take place where it now belongs, in the political arena. Barr's summary of the report seems reasonable enough as far as it goes, but in order to have confidence in his conclusions, Congress and the American people need to see for themselves what evidence Mueller presented.

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From the beginning, this has been an awful chapter in America's political story. We would like to hope that it can now wind down, but it was perhaps foreordained by the nature of this investigation that the ultimate result would be in the interpretation of the final report more than in what the document actually says.

Americans were quickly provided with the ultimate demonstration of this conclusion. Shortly after Barr issued his letter to Congress, President Donald Trump gleefully posted this tweet: "No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION ..." The exact words of Special Counsel Robert Muellers report, as quoted by Barr, were: "While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

Many Democrats, for their part, were quick to declare that the report, in the words of Illinois Sen. Richard Durbin echoing Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "creates more questions than it answers."

It does not appear, in other words, that fact and nuance will rule the day in the debates to come. We must strive for something better.

How the president's actions will be judged -- at least on the matters of collusion and obstruction -- no longer is a matter of legal consequence. It is an issue for the public and the nation's voters to evaluate. To do that well, they will need to see the full report. And then, they will need to be free to debate, interpret and assess according to the dictates of their own intellects and values.

With those standards as prologue, let us indeed move on.

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