Redacted Mueller Report Provides Few New Answers

Thus far, the full(ish) release provides plenty of juicy details but no real revelations.

The Attorney General has released a redacted version of the “full” Mueller investigation, which is well over 400 pages. I have only skimmed it at this point and am mostly reacting to reports from teams of journalists from major outlets who have been racing to find interesting nuggets to report.

Thus far, there are no real surprises.

Rather than new revelations, we’re mostly getting a lot of color and nuance.

The New York Times offers the following topline summary:

  • After a sweeping, 22-month investigation, Robert S. Mueller III found there was insufficient evidence to establish that Mr. Trump or his associates engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia to disrupt the 2016 election.
  • Investigators identified numerous contacts between campaign advisers and Russians affiliated with the government during the campaign and after the election. But the special counsel did not establish that the contacts added up to an illegal conspiracy.
  • The report detailed Mr. Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation, and the Mueller team debated whether the episodes amounted to criminal obstruction of justice. The report said that, by virtue of his position as president, he had the authority to carry out several of the acts in question — including firing James B. Comey as F.B.I. director

All of that is exactly what most of us thought this morning.

The same report—which is being updated with some frequency, with new information/sections at the top—offers these other bullets. I’m quoting them directly from subheaders but eliding substantial amounts of quoted material from the redacted report.

  • Trump’s lawyers massaged Michael Cohen’s testimony, but there is no evidence Trump told him to lie.
  • Mueller suggests a pattern of behavior by Trump to harm the investigation.
  • Mueller says obstruction laws apply to presidents who use their executive powers corruptly.
  • The report explicitly states that the investigation did not clear the president [of obstruction of justice–jhj].
  • The report indicates that Michael D. Cohen never traveled to Prague to meet with Russians.
  • Barr heavily redacted evidence about the Trump campaign’s outreach to WikiLeaks.
  • The special counsel found evidence of plenty of other crimes and made 14 referrals.
  • Trump ordered the White House counsel to claim that stories about the president wanting to fire Mueller were false.
  • After Michael T. Flynn’s lawyer refused to share information about what he was telling the special counsel’s team, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer said the president would be informed of Flynn’s ‘hostility.’
  • Trump called the appointment of Mueller the ‘end of my presidency.’
  • Mueller found several prominent Trump-Russia contacts — and a Republican platform change — were innocuous.
  • Mueller identified ‘numerous’ Trump campaign-Russia contacts, but the evidence did not rise to the level of a crime.
  • George Papadopoulos suggested that Russia wanted to coordinate with Trump campaign.
  • Trump called McGahn at home and ordered him to dismiss Mueller, but McGahn balked.
  • To find evidence of coordination, both Russia and the Trump campaign would have had to agree to act.
  • Mr. Trump likely fired James B. Comey for refusing to clear the president’s name.

I’ve put in boldface the bullets I find most interesting, in that they at least provide some context that I didn’t know or hadn’t considered.

In reverse order:

To find evidence of coordination, both Russia and the Trump campaign would have had to agree to act.

This is huge. “Coordination” is an incredibly high bar. Trump and his organization almost certainly engaged in repeatedly coordination with Russian officials in the ordinary sense of that word. That they stopped short of committing actual crimes is meaningful, of course, but it’s hardly the end of the story. Still, it’s worth noting that Mueller found many of the connections—notably the much-ballyhooed change to the GOP platform—had innocent explanations.

Trump called the appointment of Mueller the ‘end of my presidency.’

The president immediately recognized the threat of the investigation. When he learned of Mr. Mueller’s appointment, he slumped in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

He also lashed out at the attorney general for what Mr. Trump viewed as a failure to protect him. This would ultimately become a key consideration for the special counsel in debating whether the president obstructed justice, or sought to. — Maggie Haberman

Trump’s immediate reaction tells us nothing about his criminal culpability. It does, of course, suggest that he understood that an independent investigation into his dealings would, at the very least, be extremely embarrassing.

That said, Trump followed Matt Yglesias’ first rule for surviving scandals: don’t resign. While many Trump cronies and associates have been imprisoned and others ruined, Trump himself has survived the ordeal. Whether the various investigations going on in New York with do further damage remains to be seen.

Trump ordered the White House counsel to claim that stories about the president wanting to fire Mueller were false.

This is one of the most damning episodes listed in the report, despite having already been reported by The New York Times. It demonstrated an active effort by the president to paint a false narrative about his conduct, both in the news media and with the special counsel.
— Maggie Haberman

Yes.

As is often the case with long-running investigations, specifics start to fade into obscurity and eyes glaze over at the steady stream of revelations. Simply publishing so much of what we already knew into a comprehensive reports is impactful by consolidating the narrative.

The special counsel found evidence of plenty of other crimes and made 14 referrals.

Twelve of those referrals remain secret. Two others have been made public, including prosecutions involving Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, and Gregory B. Craig, a White House counsel in the Obama administration. — Adam Goldman

Just another reminder that Mueller’s report marks the end of his team’s investigation into a specific set of criminal allegations but not the end of the federal government’s investigations or, as previously mentioned, those in New York.

Barr heavily redacted evidence about the Trump campaign’s outreach to WikiLeaks.

[REDACTED] Manafort also [REDACTED] wanted to be kept apprised of any developments with WikiLeaks and separately told Gates to keep in touch [REDACTED] about future WikiLeaks releases. According to Gates, by the late summer of 2016, the Trump Campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks. [REDACTED] while Trump and Gates were driving to LaGuardia Airport. [REDACTED], shortly after the call candidate Trump told Gates that more releases of damaging information would be coming. [REDACTED]

Mr. Barr said this type of material must be kept secret because it was relevant to a continuing criminal matter. That is probably, at a minimum, the indictment of the former Trump adviser Roger Stone Jr., who is charged with lying about his participation in such efforts. But this raises a larger question: whether the hidden evidence shows that the Trump campaign conspired with WikiLeaks. At his news conference on Thursday morning, Mr. Barr said any campaign collusion with WikiLeaks could not amount to a criminal conspiracy because WikiLeaks’ publication of the emails was not a crime so long as it did not help Russia hacking them. —Charlie Savage

I’m filing this under the Damned if You Do, Damned if You Don’t category absent further revelations. Given how central this issue was to the original investigation, the public rightly wants to know more. Given that there are likely to be prosecutions in the WikiLeaks matter, though, it’s likely reasonable to redact this information.

Overall, I’m not seeing anything that materially alters my view of Trump, Barr, Mueller, or the outcome of the 2020 elections.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, Russia Investigation
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. SKI says:

    My big takeaway is that Barr is pretty clearly being deliberately deceptive. His public statements, both this morning and in the past, are contradicted by the report itself.

    See, for e.g., this choice of what to exclude in his quote: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/D4cxy1XXsAE0nz_.jpg:large

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  2. Kathy says:

    From a layperson POV, and having read only the summary of Volume II, I’d say there is plenty to indict Trump for obstruction of justice. And if rank stupidity were a crime, he’d be guilty of that, as he engaged in a halfhearted, cowardly attempt to cover up someone else’s crimes, out of either vanity or insecurity.

    I will clarify that I say “cowardly,” because he pressed people into acting for him, without actually doing the deed himself. That’s what a coward does.

  3. Tim D. says:

    I think you’re right that the conspiracy / coordination bar is really high, and I guess the main question I’ve had in my mind the whole time is that, regardless of whether this rises to the level of “indictable”, is this behavior something we are willing to tolerate in a healthy democracy? I personally think the answer is “no.” The widespread credibility of our elections is not a given, and it is coming under attack from lots of directions. The House should keep investigating.

  4. SenyorDave says:

    So Nadler has “invited” Mueller to testify by May 23rd. Since it is an invitation I assume he can decline. A few questions:
    1. If he declines I also assume he can be subpoenaed. If subpoenaed can he still decline, and if he can’t does he have to answer all question?
    2. What would be the Democrats purpose in having him testify?

    It seems apparent that Trump committed obstruction of justice. If this were just a unique, one off thing it would be bad enough, but this is part of a pattern of Trump acting like he is above the law.

    I think you have to start looking into impeachment somet time out on the future when more has come out.

    IMO Mueller flinched.

  5. James Joyner says:

    @Kathy:

    From a layperson POV, and having read only the summary of Volume II, I’d say there is plenty to indict Trump for obstruction of justice

    and

    @SenyorDave:

    It seems apparent that Trump committed obstruction of justice.

    I have no doubt that Trump tried to obstruct justice. I’m inclined, however, to trust the judgment of Robert Mueller that his conduct did not rise to the level of criminal indictment for “obstruction of justice.” And, clearly, part of that judgment is predicated on the perverse but legally correct view that, as Chief Executive, the President has a lot of latitude to do things that ordinary citizens or even high Justice Department officials couldn’t get away with.

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  6. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m inclined, however, to trust the judgment of Robert Mueller that his conduct did not rise to the level of criminal indictment for “obstruction of justice.”

    Except Mueller did not make that call, no? Was pretty sure he punted on OoJ and the decision not to prosecute was Barr’s.

    Fourth, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice , we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however , we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the President ‘ s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

    Translated by Josh Marshall:

    So one big finding so far, following up on David’s note below. It’s in the “Introduction to Volume II”, the obstruction part. It’s very specific and detailed. But it’s only two pages. You can read it yourself. It’s pages 213-14 in the PDF, pages 1 and 2 of that volume of the report. The gist though is that the Special Counsel decided not only that they couldn’t indict a sitting President but that it would not be fair even to accuse him of a crime without indicting him. They also say that if they decided he shouldn’t face prosecution (under the normal standards that would apply to a non-President) that they would say so. They did not. The gist is that the whole non-finding of obstruction seems to rest on the DOJ/OLC belief that a sitting President cannot be indicted – quite contrary to Barr’s claim.

    Bottom-line, Mueller seems to be saying that if Trump was anyone *but* the President, he would have been indicted.

    This is another area where Barr intentionally deceived in his statement – a deception you seem to have fallen for.

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  7. David S. says:

    I have yet to read the Mueller Report myself at all, but…

    My takeaway is that while he did not engage in any actual criminal behavior within Mueller’s purview, Trump very much thinks that he has done so. That by itself isn’t criminal either. It’s pretty firmly in the category of “why the fuck did we elect this guy?”

    That said, my untrained legal opinion is that the real problem is the interaction between the Chief Executive’s privileges and powers… and the Fifth Amendment. This is where Barr may be correct that the Chief Executive fundamentally may be unable to impede justice. Trump earnestly and clearly made attempts to stymie the investigation. This is a fact not under dispute. But it’s not clear to me that such efforts actually amount to obstruction, when it was always his prerogative to close it entirely.

    This is the kind of situation that’s exactly why Taiwan created the Control Yuan. The Chief Executive does have the privilege of dismissing a investigation into the Chief Executive, and that’s a blatant and idiotic conflict of interest that simply isn’t resolvable in the three-branch system.

  8. Gustopher says:

    From WaPo’s annotated Mueller Report (Page 175):

    The Mueller report said of the decision not to charge these Americans: “Although members of the IRA had contact with individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign, the indictment does not charge any Trump Campaign official or any other U.S, person with participating in the conspiracy. That is because the investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. person who coordinated or communicated with the IRA knew that he or she was speaking with Russian national engaged in the criminal conspiracy.”

    Paraphrasing that: People coordinated with the Russian government, but we were unable to establish that they realized it was the Russian government.

    Paraphrasing that: collusion

    Paraphrasing that, a la Trump: no collusion.

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  9. dazedandconfused says:

    @Kathy:

    That OoJ charge is a dicey one to make when it can’t be established he didn’t really believe it was a witch hunt. Since they could neither prove he actively colluded nor could they interview him to get his thinking on record I can see why they felt the case would fail in court. The guy is POTUS . His right to fire anyone serving at his discretion. With Nixon it was different, they had him and his intention on tape.

    The damage will all be in the exposure of what kind of man he is. Who didn’t already know that?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehjuz-VH6Ec

  10. Kathy says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m inclined, however, to trust the judgment of Robert Mueller that his conduct did not rise to the level of criminal indictment for “obstruction of justice.”

    It seems more like Mueller explained why he couldn’t indict Dennison, nor name him as unindicted co-conspirator even in a sealed indictment.

    Under non-hyperpartisan conditions, he’d be impeached next and removed by the end of Summer. Under current conditions, the GOP would bake him a cake.

    The more fools they. This leaves the door open for any future president to abuse their power. Remember what Sulla taught the Romans, and why Julius Caesar ended up doing just as Sulla had done, just without the intent of ever giving up power.

  11. SKI says:

    @James Joyner:

    I’m inclined, however, to trust the judgment of Robert Mueller that his conduct did not rise to the level of criminal indictment for “obstruction of justice.”

    More on why this understanding that it was Mueller’s determination that there was no Obstruction of Justice is inaccurate.

    Alex Whiting (@alexgwhiting), Professor at Harvard Law School and member of the board of editors of Just Security. He served as a former federal prosecutor at the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, also hones in on obstruction, including several ways in which Mueller’s report is more damaging to the President than Barr’s summary implied:

    Four things jump out from an initial read of the obstruction section of the Mueller report. First, Mueller declined to make a call on whether the President committed criminal acts of obstruction solely because of the Justice Department’s current policy that a sitting President cannot be indicted, not because he concluded that such charges could not be supported legally or factually. In fact, he says that they would have stated if they found that he “clearly did not commit obstruction of justice.”

    and

    Asha Rangappa (@AshaRangappa), Senior Lecturer at Yale’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, served as an FBI counterintelligence agent from 2002 to 2005. She explains how Attorney General Barr mischaracterized Mueller’s decision declining to prosecute the President for obstruction and that Mueller’s Report challenges DOJ policy and anticipates a role for Congress or future prosecutors:

    It’s clear that Attorney General Barr obscured and mischaracterized the bases upon which Mueller declined to reach a prosecutorial decision on whether President Trump committed the crime of obstruction. He did so based on two unsettled legal questions: First, current DOJ policy not to charge sitting presidents, and second, Trumps’ lawyers’ asserted defense that a president cannot legally obstruct justice (which happens to exactly mirror Barr’s own legal theory, which he sent in an unsolicited memo to DOJ one year ago). Since either of these theories might preclude the president from rebutting the evidence in an adversarial process, Mueller believed a fairness principle constrained him from accusing the president in the form of recommended charges.

    Notably, the report extensively challenges the legal basis of the DOJ policy as well as Trump’s (i.e., Barr’s) Article II defense. It also makes an affirmative case for Congress’ authority to investigate obstruction of justice by the president and observes that the president could be exposed to criminal liability once he leaves office, thereby justifying a full investigation and gathering of evidence. In doing so, Mueller makes clear that his findings were intended for independent evaluation by Congress, or by future prosecutors — not by Barr himself.

  12. James Pearce says:

    Adam Schiff wants Mueller to testify before the House because “the public deserves to know.” With all due respect, Rep. Schiff, the public already knows.

    We know we have a corrupt president and a useless congress and we have one chance to clean it up on a single day two Novembers from now.

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  13. Jay L Gischer says:

    There are 12 secret referrals. Twelve! We only know about two.

    Honestly, that’s kind of stunning. Why would these referrals remain secret? What is going on with them? Are these for Trump’s family members? Someone else? Do some of you lawyer types have a good reason for this?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  14. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @James Joyner:

    I have no doubt that Trump tried to obstruct justice. I’m inclined, however, to trust the judgment of Robert Mueller that his conduct did not rise to the level of criminal indictment for “obstruction of justice.”

    I think it’s pretty clear that Mueller wanted Congress to look at that, for a number of reasons, not the least being that the OLC says the President can’t be indicted.
    The idea that Dennison was exonerated is ridiculous.
    Far from nothing new…this report seems pretty damning for the President. He was willing to cheat to win the office, and use the office to cover up his cheating. They couldn’t prove conspiracy because evidence was destroyed or otherwise hidden from the SC. The American people were constantly misled by this administration, not the least being Baghdad Barr…whose summary and press conference are both heavily contradicted by the actual report.

  15. Daryl and his brother Darryl says:

    @Daryl and his brother Darryl:
    The Mueller report is a pretty clear road-map to impeachment…where that goes with a supine Republican Congress is another discussion.
    At the very least Barr should be impeached, for lying to the American people and serving as Dennison’s private attorney and not the people, which only requires a majority of the House and nothing of the Senate.

  16. The abyss says:

    “We know we have a corrupt president and a useless congress and we have one chance to clean it up on a single day two Novembers from now.” [emphases added]

    Even I have to admit the accuracy of that statement. Alas, unless you have a nationful of mice in your pockets (which carry the weight of 270 electoral votes), we are unlikely to “clean it up” (especially relating to the useless Congress) because the same pool of voters that cast ballots last time are the only tool we have. If the economy tanks soon, the corrupt president part may be solvable, but even then, Congress will still be useless.

    (And NO, I’m not a convert; this is the position I’ve held for a long time now.)

  17. Teve says:

    I want somebody to ask James Comey what he thinks about Sarah Sanders straight making up lies about him.

  18. Pylon says:
  19. DrDaveT says:

    That they stopped short of committing actual crimes is meaningful, of course,

    I think you meant to say “that they stopped short of leaving enough evidence of any crimes they committed…”

    The entire report is one long series of findings of “not enough evidence to go forward”. There are one or two instances of “we determined that it wasn’t what it looked like”, out of dozens of the former.

  20. SenyorDave says:

    @Pylon: I completely agree with Sexton’s analysis, I believe Mueller was kicking this to Congress for impeachment.

    Also, not sure you can impeach Barr for lying to American people, but it is pretty obvious that he did.

    Trump and his people are traitors. Russians reached out to them and instead of going to FBI, they said what do you got for us?

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  21. Gustopher says:

    Part 1, Page 187 basically says that proving motive for Donald Trump Jr. is impossible because he is too dumb to have such complicated things as motives.

  22. Andy says:

    I’m not very much into “hot takes” but it seems to be enough of a mixed bag that motivated reasoning and confirmation bias will rule most interpretations.

    At the end of the day, this should be a cautionary tale about the dangers of growing executive power but instead, it will be just another partisan fight and fundraising locus for the 2020 power grab.

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  23. Teve says:

    Wow. A friend of mine is a lawyer in Chicago, and she’s reading the whole report and commenting on Facebook, and some insane person is in her comments saying that the redacted parts are all about serious felony and treason charges against Hillary Clinton, and that “HILLARY IS GOING DOWN”.

  24. Mikey says:

    When Barr published his four-page “summary” of Mueller’s report, I asked this question:

    “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” See the brackets around the T? That means what Barr reproduced in his memo is the conclusion of a longer sentence. What did he chop off, and why?

    With the report’s release, we now know the full sentence actually reads:

    Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

    So we know what he chopped off, and the why is pretty fucking obvious.

    Anyone who thinks Barr is anything but Trump’s full-on advocate is deluding themselves. The fix is clearly in.

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  25. Michael Reynolds says:

    This day basically didn’t matter. The 42% will remain the 42%. Trump is manifestly, unmistakably guilty of felony obstruction of justice, but that’s been obvious for literally years. It’s also been obvious that DoJ wasn’t going to prosecute on obstruction while Trump is still in office.

    The report mentions other, personal reasons for Trump’s servility to Putin, and those cases are (I believe) being pursued by SDNY. I’ve maintained from Day #1 that the essential underlying crime was money-laundering by Trump, for the Russian Oligarchs/Mob.

    The next big reveal will be that Trump accepted billions in cash from Putin’s boys, did not declare it as income, did not declare it as funds from abroad, and cleaned it through real estate deals. I strongly suspect we’ll also see proof of Kushner sucking at the Gulf State teat. Only then will we see the 42% begin to erode – not because Trump is a crook, they know that. Nor will it be out of any concern for right or wrong. I think what will do him in is that he will have been unfaithful to them, he will have been on someone else’s payroll while professing love to his base. They’ll be betrayed mistresses.

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  26. Mikey says:

    Also, after learning of Sarah Sanders’ admission to the special counsel that her statements following Comey’s firing were total fabrications, every question at every press briefing from now to the end of this misbegotten disaster of a Presidency should be “why should we believe a single word you say, you lying sack?”

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  27. SenyorDave says:

    @Mikey: would love to see the first question at at next press briefing a question about her lie. Maybe SHS should wear a funny hat when she is telling the truth.

  28. An Interested Party says:

    All of this is yet another indicator that there are Two Americas…glancing at conservative websites, there is all kinds of gloating and celebration that Trump has supposedly been completely cleared of any wrongdoing…meanwhile, the mood on liberal websites is very much like this thread, that obviously bad stuff was done, it’s all right there in the report…it’s all rather depressing and shows that this country will be very hard pressed to ever get its shit together as long as two different realities make up its narrative…

  29. Teve says:

    it’s weird that out of the thousands of things that Sanders has said, the one statement Mueller investigated just happened to be the one lie she ever told! I mean, what are the odds!

  30. Modulo Myself says:

    Time for Pelosi to revisit impeachment. The report was damning and conservatives are absolutely in shock right now. Even the dumb ones were kind of surprised. They’ve been listening to the grift for two years and spewing it back. Even in footnotes, the pee tape, real or not, exists. These dummies believed none of this was real and now they’re facing the truth. Go after his taxes and start peeling away at his defective children and his flimsy pyramid scheme alleged business. I think he’s about to be Hitler in the bunker–no debates next year, just weird staged appearances for the base on Fox.

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  31. An Interested Party says:

    The report was damning and conservatives are absolutely in shock right now.

    Are they? From what I’ve seen, many of them are gloating and talking about how the whole Mueller investigation is just a big nothingburger…meanwhile, what’s the point of impeachment? He’ll never, ever be removed by the Senate…

  32. Scott F. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    The Trump base won’t move, that much is true. But, today can still matter. Not necessarily for Trump’s chances of staying in office, but for his enablers in the GOP.

    The DNC campaign ad for the next two years write themselves.

    For Trump, quote direct text from Volume 2 with the tag line “The DOJ can’t indict a sitting President, but you can. Vote 2020!”

    For every Republican Senator quote the report’s statement that Russia saw Trump’s election as better for them while showing chummy pictures of The Donald and Putin. Then, cross-fade to the Trump enabler and simply state, “Senator McConnell is okay with that.”

    The Trumpkins will stay true to the Traitor Trump and the party he leads, but 9% in the persuadable camp can be moved.

  33. Paul L. says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    How goes the Moving of the Goalposts?

    By the way, here’s a nice lollipop for you two to suck on: the Feds and the NY State AG both now have the evidence. Do you understand what that means? It doesn’t disappear even if Mueller does. It’s too late for Trump to fire Mueller and have it work. We have reached the Nixon Tapes moment, the tipping point, when it is too late. You’re not getting it (what a shock) but it is too damn late…
    Pardon, Resign, Flee. That’s the closest thing to a good move for Trump now.

  34. the abyss says:

    @Gustopher: “…he is too dumb to have such complicated things as motives.”

    Ouchie!

  35. just nutha says:

    @Paul L.: I don’t understand what you believe has changed in the quote you cite. Has anything there stopped being true?