The fallacy of equating the Barr Memo with the Mueller Report undermines our Democracy

Attorney General William Barr with President George H.W. Bush. Barr helped orchestrate the pardons of key . figures in the Iran-Contra scandal, which helped Bush and Reagan avoid culpability in their role in espionage and treason. Photo by Marcy Nighswander/AP.

A phenomenon emerged, at dangerous speed, within hours of Barr releasing his 4 page summary of the Mueller Report. A fast growing number of news outlets reported on March 24, 2019 that the Mueller Report had exonerated Donald J. Trump, despite no news outlet having read the Report itself.

All of the reporting relied on a 4 page memo from Attorney General William Barr. And a number of pundits began publishing essays that declared ‘Democrats’ needed to move on from Russian Collusion. An example of this is The Intercept, complaining since 2017 about Rachel Maddow’s reporting of the Trump campaign and administration’s ties with Russian oligarchs, as expected, published a transcript of a podcast titled, “THE DAY AFTER MUELLER,” which said that Dr. Maddow was lying to her audience …

JS: You know, Margaret Sullivan wrote a column in the Washington Post on Monday where she was sort of defending print journalists in particular. Is there a distinction worth drawing though when we talk about the way cable news covered this? And I’m thinking particularly of Rachel Maddow, obviously, is probably exhibit A in sort of hyping this constantly, or you know Glenn says “lying” every night to millions of people. Chris Hayes though had on Jonathan Chait.

In this line of thinking, an ill-defined demographic, just broadly Democrats, is said to be ‘obsessed’ with the idea that the Russian government interfered with the 2016 election, and that Donald J. Trump participated in this interference.

This line of thinking has two significant fallacies.

The first is that Democrats is treated too broadly, which seems to encompass everything from Rachel Maddow to NPR to, presumably, a voting base and some politicians, without much specificity about which Democrats are being described broadly in any given moment. This lack of specificity about which Democrats, in terms of any sense of statistical analysis, means that this is ultimately a discussion about the author’s imagination of how a group of people are behaving, based on some slim anecdotes. The trouble with this lack of specificity is that it can create the impression of groupthink where none exists; and the arguable purpose of that impression is to create the idea that the concern isn’t real. But the discussion from this perspective creates a false narrative based on arguments that are cherry-picked, to highlight the point that the country should move on from this discussion.

Even the characterization itself is disturbing; to believe that all Democrats are merely ‘obsessed’ creates the notion that there’s something wrong with being concerned that an oligarchic dictatorship interfered with our election to help Donald J. Trump. For myself, I find this type of argument specious, since I don’t see much in the way of credibility on the part of the author trying to glean what a broad group of people are thinking, when they themselves never bother to define the group in a way that helps a reader understand, clearly, exactly who they’re talking about.

I don’t need to create a broad group for the following argument. I’ll offer you the perspective of a single Democrat, myself, on these points and let you judge for yourself if I’m on to something.

The bigger fallacy is the same one that CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Times, and any news outlet committed when they ran versions of the headline “MUELLER SAYS NO COLLUSION” on March 24, 2019. Namely, the confusion between a 300+ page report by Mueller and a 4 page memo that Attorney General William Barr wrote. The presumption seems to be that Barr is a neutral arbiter of information, and would feel a compulsion to speak honestly about the facts at hand. Barr specifically wrote a memo the previous year ruling out the possibility of obstruction of justice; it was this memo (among other things) that got Barr hired as Attorney General in the first place.

For whatever reason, essays like this avoid putting William Barr into his historic context. He worked in the Department of Justice during the Presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. As Attorney General, William Barr helped orchestrate a series of firing and pardons that helped both of those Presidents avoid consequences from the Iran/Contra scandal. He also, while Attorney General, actively supported investigation into Bill Clinton’s passport files, among other corrupt activities.

From my perspective, many people don’t have perspective on the depths of corruption that were involved with the Iran-Contra affair, nor do they have context on the people involved in the present tense. Even those in Congress, in both the House and Senate, who did have context offered a lackluster push back against his nomination.

To this end, it gets to the central point of all of this — that every day we allow these inequities, we continue the path of our Federal Government since Nixon, that we allow more and more criminality from Republicans in the Executive Branch, each time they’re in power, and then pretend that such a statement isn’t factual, but merely partisan.

It has to end. When Republicans voted to impeach Bill Clinton in the 90s, they did the right thing. The Senate trial also had a correct outcome; Clinton wasn’t removed from office, he was censured, and he lost his law license for a period of time for committing perjury. The bar set for the impeachment of Clinton was appropriately low.

It’s a bar that we’re well beyond the low bar of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, with both George W. Bush and now, as of this writing, Donald J. Trump.

Which gets us back to the central point. In Barr’s memo, he concluded without equivocation that yes, the Russian government interfered in the 2016 election. This ommission from the line of thinking that the country needs to move on from this scandal is telling. It accepts the corruption of our electoral processes, and the kleptocratic behavior of the Trump regime, as normal amd acceptable.

Neither is true. As the days have moved on since the stunning lack of clear thinking from pundits, both professional and amateur, about the veracity of Barr’s memo versus the conclusions of Mueller’s prosecutorial report, more people have come to recognize the obvious; namely, that the continued corruption and corrosion of our political systems is happening in plain site, for all the world to see.

The only question that remains is what we the people will choose to do about it.

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