Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) spoke from the floor Tuesday and lied about several aspects of special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The investigation, he claimed, was “finally over,” and it was time for Democrats to accept that fact and move on.
“What we’ve seen is a meltdown, an absolute meltdown,” he claimed. “An absolute inability to accept the bottom-line conclusion from the special counsel’s report, which said the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. That’s the conclusion.”
McConnell was repeating a popular Republican talking point which suggests that the report, made public last month, vindicates President Donald Trump and proves he is innocent of any wrongdoing.
“Two years of exhaustive investigation and nothing to establish the fanciful conspiracy theory that Democratic politicians and TV talking heads had treated like a foregone conclusion,” he continued. “They told everyone there had been a conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign. Yet … the special counsel’s finding is clear. Case closed.”
Referring to Attorney General William Barr, who has come under fire for misleading Congress about Mueller’s findings, McConnell added, “This ought to be good news for everyone, but my Democratic colleagues seem to be publicly working through the five stages of grief. … They’ve opted to channel all their partisan anger onto the attorney general. They seem to be angrier at [him] for doing his job than they are at [Russian President] Vladimir Putin.”
Mueller’s report did not exonerate Trump, as McConnell and many other Republicans have suggested. Though the special counsel did not find evidence of criminal coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, it did establish a multitude of ties between the two sides, and noted that the campaign appeared eager to accept damaging information on Trump’s opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, from a foreign adversary.
Notably, the report also detailed at least 10 instances involving Trump that may have constituted obstruction of justice. Mueller ultimately did not refer any indictments based on those examples, but appeared to leave it to Congress to take the next step.
Additionally, the special counsel’s investigation, which closed in March, is hardly “over” as McConnell suggested. Rather, it has resulted in a number of outside probes. The report notes that Mueller specifically referred 14 other cases for external prosecution, 12 of which were redacted. The remaining two cases were left unredacted in the report and are related to former Obama White House counsel Gregory Craig and Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer and longtime “fixer,” who pleaded guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud, and campaign finance violations last year.
Despite this, McConnell on Tuesday insisted there was nothing left to investigate, saying Democrats were still angry about Trump’s election victory in 2016 and were trying to undermine his authority.
“Why are they angry?” the majority leader asked. “Did the attorney general fire the special counsel or force him to wind down prematurely? No. Did he sit on the report and keep it secret? No. He reported out his bottom line legal conclusions and then released as much as possible for the world to see. Did he use redactions to mislead the public? No. Working with the special counsel team, he released as much as possible within standard safeguards.”
He added, “It’s hard to see … the source of the anger. Maybe our Democratic colleagues are thinking of some strange new kind of cover-up where you take the entire thing you’re supposedly covering up and post it on the internet.”
McConnell is correct that Barr, who wrote a 19-page letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in June 2018 criticizing Mueller’s probe, did not try to fire Mueller. However, according to the special counsel’s report, Trump himself attempted to oust the special counsel on several occasions, including through former White House counsel Don McGahn. McGahn told investigators he did not comply with that demand, and said Trump tried to get him to lie about the request later on.
The White House recently intervened to stop McGahn from complying with a congressional subpoena for documents related to the probe, claiming Trump had the right to assert executive privilege.
Barr has defended those actions as appropriate, telling lawmakers last week that it was “not a crime” to demand Mueller’s dismissal, while simultaneously suggesting Trump had not explicitly asked for the special counsel to be fired.
McConnell also failed to address the fact that Barr has resisted making the full, unredacted report available to members of Congress. Though the attorney general initially agreed to let a few lawmakers see a less-redacted version of the document in a secure setting, the offer stipulated that they not discuss what they had seen afterward. Democrats rejected that proposal, saying the parameters were unnecessarily strict.
McConnell’s comments Tuesday largely echoed those of the White House, which has claimed for the past several weeks that the report is a “total exoneration” of the president and that any criticism of Barr is unwarranted.
Trump himself has claimed that there is nothing left to investigate, telling Fox News last week, “We’ve gone through so many investigations, everybody. And it’s so ridiculous. No obstruction, no nothing — there’s been no nothing. There’s been no collusion, there never was, they knew that from day one.”
Referring to McGahn, whom House Democrats have subpoenaed to testify before Congress, he added, “Congress shouldn’t be looking anymore. This is all. It’s done.”
This article has been updated to clarify that Gregory Craig served as White House counsel under the Obama administration, and to add new information about the White House’s decision to bar McGahn from complying with congressional subpoena.