It’s a pretty safe assumption that Robert Mueller wrote an executive summary for his report. It’s also pretty safe to assume that such a summary would not contain classified information. So, why did William Barr write his own summary of the Mueller report? Why not simply release Mueller’s own?
Some questions answer themselves. We can be certain that the Barr summary makes Trump & Co. look better than the Mueller summary. So, Barr figured that he can make headlines with his summary and wait long enough to release the Mueller report for the Barr formulation to have sunk into the public consciousness.
I’m not suggesting that there is anything inaccurate in the Barr summary. But a skillful propagandist knows how to choose his words to produce a desired effect without actually lying. So, for example, the Barr summary says that the investigation “did not find” that the Trump people conspired or coordinated with Russia. Barr immediately then quotes the report’s words that the investigation “did not establish” the existence of conspiracy or coordination. Why precede Mueller’s words “did not establish” with Barr’s “did not find”? The implication is that the two phrases are equivalent, but they’re not. ““Establish” implies an accumulation of dispositive evidence. “Find” is less clear. It’s an easy leap from “did not find” to “found no.” “Did not find” gives the headline writers a chance to lose nuance. As a matter of fact, The NY Times banner headline yesterday read that Mueller “finds no” conspiracy, which certainly sounds like Mueller concluded that there was no conspiracy, which may not be correct. You can’t as easily leap from “did not establish” to “established there was no conspiracy,” which would too clearly be inaccurate.
For all we know, the actual report could have wording to the effect that while evidence suggesting coordination (i.e., collusion) was found, coordination couldn’t actually be established with sufficient confidence to support a criminal charge of conspiracy. In our criminal justice system, “not guilty” does not imply “innocent.” I could well imagine the Mueller report, and even the summary, containing sentences like these:
A number of actions by Trump campaign associates manifested a knowledge of, interest in and willingness to benefit from Russian efforts. Such knowledge, interest and willingness fall short of active coordination constituting conspiracy. Moreover, the extent of the president’s knowledge of such actions could not be determined.”
Am I grasping at straws? Maybe, but we really need to see the actual Mueller report ASAP. A good start would be Mueller’s summary.
Here’s a good short note from Mother Jones‘s Kevin Drum:
This is just another quick reminder that nobody has yet seen the Mueller report. We know virtually nothing about what’s in it, aside from the fact that Mueller decided not to recommend any indictments for collusion.
Everything we do know—or think we know—is from the Barr memo. This means that reporting and headline writing should all refer to the Barr memo, not the Mueller report. This will change only if and when we see the Mueller report itself.