The writers of Trump, the Presidency for season 3 have really outdone themselves in the final episodes before we move to season 4. Just one day before the House of Representatives revealed its proposed articles of impeachment, the Department of Justice released the long-awaited Inspector General’s report.
The IG report summarizes the findings of the investigation that Attorney General William Barr and the Republicans asked for, hoping it would expose a Deep State anti-Trump conspiracy. Senator Lindsey Graham promised the report would be “ugly and damaging.” That was months ago.
Funny how things change.
If some Republicans expected the DOJ IG report to be a counterpart to the Mueller Report, well, in least one way, it is: Virtually nobody will read it, because it’s long, even longer than the Mueller Report! But if you do have any spare time to dip into the IG report’s 476 pages, you’ll find a fascinating account of the Russia investigation and what led up to it. And, from all the Republican spin attacking the IG report, you can tell one big thing: It doesn’t do what the president and his supporters wanted. Even before the report’s release, Attorney General Barr disputed one of its key findings. His attacks on and misrepresentations of the IG report continued after it was released on Monday.
As several lawyers who served in past Republican administrations noted today, Barr’s attacks on the IG report are abnormal and troubling—especially since the attorney general is not supposed to be a partisan warrior but to concern himself with the facts and the law.
One of the things that many Trump supporters hoped the IG report would address is the political nature of the text messages among people at the FBI involved in the Russia probe. As it turns out, some of the people involved in the probe were Trump supporters and used government systems to message each other about the election. Did these Trump-supporting Deep Staters influence anything?
It can get all so confusing when you don’t read the report but only see or hear snippets of it devoid of context. When the people spinning the report on cable—or worse, on Twitter—start nattering on about how Agent Three was talking about Source Three and confidential human sources, you can start to feel like you’re in the middle of a John le Carré novel. Better to read the report, or at least the executive summary, for yourself.
Bill Barr isn’t the only guy out there mischaracterizing the IG report—his boss is, too. After the FBI director told an interviewer yesterday that the IG report showed that the Russia investigation “was opened with appropriate predication and authorization,” the president replied with a tweet:
I don’t know what report current Director of the FBI Christopher Wray was reading, but it sure wasn’t the one given to me. With that kind of attitude, he will never be able to fix the FBI, which is badly broken despite having some of the greatest men & women working there!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 10, 2019
You can imagine the outrage that conservatives would have voiced if President Obama had continually attacked the credibility of government agencies responsible for law enforcement. But now such attacks from President Trump are routine occurrences.
These attacks on the integrity of the FBI and the intelligence community are probably best understood as part of a long-term plan to sow distrust in government. President Trump has a loyal base that he wants to hold on to going into 2020. So it’s important to him that they have doubts about the veracity of the FBI and any other agency or institution that might contradict his claims.
The attempt is largely working. Recall that when the Mueller Report came out, there were numerous efforts to push everyone—especially our elected officials—to read it. (We even made it our Bulwark tagline, and our friends over at Republicans for the Rule of Law worked to put public pressure on GOP lawmakers to read the report.)
Disappointingly, not all members read the report. On the Republican side, this was a calculated choice: willful ignorance. Admit you’ve read the report, and members of the press and constituents can press you for your thoughts. Better to be seen as ignorant than dumb—though at this point maybe that’s a distinction without a difference.
The IG report will likely fare the same. Many members of Congress will avoid reading it, including many of the members who not long ago were loudly demanding an investigation of the investigators. How can anyone take them seriously if they don’t read the report—or if they try to change the subject and pivot to something else?
We can be different though, and read the report. And push our members of Congress to do so as well. In an age of rampant disinformation and shallow analysis, maybe that’s what civic participation looks like—cozying up with a blanket, a mug of cocoa, and 476 pages of lightly redacted investigative findings.