As Mark Twain (Amongst Others) said, “Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction”
The political drama we are living through right now, especially this past week, or maybe ever since T was elected, exceeds any fictional portrayals we have seen in any novel, TV program or movie for dramatic action and psychological tension. Maybe the actors we are seeing in the White House or Congress do not equal the imaginative portrayal or perfidy of villains or courage of heroes we have seen in fiction, but that is arguable. What Trump and the GOP lack in imagination, for example, they exceed in the daring and reality of the evil they do and the pain they cause.
Unlike many fictional dramas, this one began at a point of high tension and expectation. It began last Sunday, when Attorney General Barr released his own summary of the Mueller Report announcing the end of the investigation. He did not turn the Mueller Report over to Congress or to the American people, as was the case when President Clinton was investigated. He instead chose to tell us his version, to give us the Barr Report instead.
There were two main conclusions in the Barr Report. One, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Although it did establish that Russia did work to interfere in the election.) Two, regarding obstruction of justice, or whether the President acted in a criminal manner to interfere in the Mueller investigation, the Barr Report announced that the Mueller Report supposedly did not draw a conclusion, but said that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Therefore, according to Barr, there was no obstruction of justice.
A tremendous hush rose over the land, especially amongst the majority of Americans. My heart dropped through the floor. We all knew Barr was a Trump loyalist. So why hadn’t the Democrats better prepared for this?” I felt the political world was falling apart.
After two years of almost daily revelations of Russian contacts and of acting in Russia’s interest, of lies, threats of violence and assaults on the character of anyone who opposed him, on Mueller, FBI agents, reporters, Senators, Congresspeople, Judges, immigrants, women, children, people of color, even some members of his own cabinet and his own hatchet man, of financial crimes and using the Presidency to advance his own financial interests ⎼ it felt like all the cries for justice were suddenly silenced. All the expectations that the Mueller Investigation would finally expel the evil that had infested our nation were shattered.
Even before the report was released, the GOP was priming the news media. CNN reported that one person at the White House said, before Barr released his summary, “’We won’ and the campaign has been absolved because there weren’t any charges related to conspiracy or obstruction.” A Trump campaign adviser told CNN: “It’s a great day for America…”
But once Sunday afternoon rolled around and Barr released his summary report, the GOP and their propaganda outlets went wild, shouting so loudly and repeatedly it was difficult, at first, to hear anything else but the silence in between the shouts. “There would be no further indictments to come,” said Barr. “Complete exoneration,” said the GOP. “A tremendous relief.” GOP Rep. Mark Meadows, a Trump loyalist, claimed: “After 22 months of a special counsel and 2 years of congressional investigations, it’s over. The clock has finally struck midnight on the ‘Russian collusion’ fantasy. No collusion.”
This is how the week began. This is Act One. The exposition and conflicts were largely spelled out.
And then Act Two. First, the cries for vengeance. The GOP claimed the real criminals were the press and the Democrats. T said, “There are a lot of people out there who have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country.” There would be new investigations, but this time, it would be into all those who dared to accuse the President of any crimes but especially high crimes and misdemeanors.
I felt my level of tension rising and was worried about who the GOP would try to indict.
Democrats, after at first trying to shift the focus from the reports and investigations to other issues, important economic issues, finally began to fight back. The level of conflict rose. As Rachel Maddow pointed out, the press and the Democrats began to realize that they really hadn’t heard from Mueller at all. Barr was clearly not a neutral party. They asked about what was being hidden by Barr. Why is the report being kept secret not only from the American people but from Congress?
Many examples of collusion with Russia were enacted right in our face, in public, a fact Democrats, including Congresspeople Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi, made clear. The way this report was being handled or mishandled was not what was needed to restore any faith in the rule of law by the people of this nation. It wasn’t Barr’s place to summarize anything or hide the evidence but instead to turn it over to Congress and the people.
On Thursday, the nine Republican members of the House Intelligence Committee signed a letter calling for Adam Schiff to resign as chairman of the committee. At the congressional hearing on Russian interference in the election, Republican Congressman Mike Conaway stopped the hearing to read the GOP letter, which said: “Your actions both past and present are incompatible with your duty as chairman.” T also called for Schiff to resign.
But then Schiff had his chance to be a hero and he played his part with courage and insight. You can see it all on MSNBC. In the hearing, he responded to Conaway and the other Republicans by spelling out, clearly, passionately, even poetically a list of examples of collusion and possible criminal behavior by the President and his supporters over the last two-plus years. His response to the GOP attack had all the power of the best dramatic fiction. He said, you (The GOP) “think it’s ok” that members of T’s campaign were willing to accept dirt from the Russians. “I don’t think it’s OK. I think it’s immoral, I think it’s unethical, I think it’s unpatriotic, and yes, I think it’s corrupt and evidence of collusion.”
What will be the climax? On Friday, Barr said he will give a redacted version of the Mueller Report to Congress and later the public. Democrats said they plan to subpoena the report and possibly Mueller and Barr. Will the subpoenas be successful? What will the report actually say? Or what might Mueller say? Is this the beginning of Act III?
Rep. Schiff spoke out again, saying the Attorney General was not, as he had claimed, compelled by the law to redact the report and hide it from Congress. Barr’s actions, and even his original appointment and confirmation, create the precedent for Presidents under investigation in the future to nominate and fire Attorney Generals to protect themselves, not the American people.
If Barr succeeds in placing himself between the Mueller Report and the American people, as the arbiter of truth and law, he could position the President above the law and turn the Presidency into an autocracy.
Will there be a catharsis, a cleansing of the nation by going through this drama? Will this struggle yield a stronger democracy or destroy what is left of democracy? And what will our place in the drama be? When and how will we, the people, act?
The tension is still rising. The consequences couldn’t be much higher.
Previously Published on Ira Rabois
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons