Editor’s Note: Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications, and the co-host of the podcast “They Call Us Bruce.” He co-wrote Jackie Chan’s best-selling autobiography, “I Am Jackie Chan,” and is the editor of three graphic novels: “Secret Identities,” “Shattered” and the forthcoming “New Frontiers.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author. View more opinion articles on CNN.
While the Department of Justice received the full results of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election promised by the office of the special counsel on Sunday, all that has been delivered to Congress and released to the public to date is a summary created by Attorney General William Barr.
Barr, you’ll recall, was appointed by President Donald Trump in no small part to take charge of the investigation. Recall, too, that in a memo last June to members of the Trump administration, Barr suggested a sitting president could not be criminally indicted and criticized Mueller’s work as “overly broad.”
And so the skimpiness of the Barr summation – just four pages long and deeply interwoven with the attorney general’s own conclusions – reads like an insult and disgrace for a nation that has waited almost two years for the investigation to end. (Perhaps most notably, it includes the attorney general’s previously stated opinion that obstruction of justice is not possible “unless the President and his campaign were actually guilty of illegal collusion.”)
Releasing such a scant and hollow summary enables the continued threat to our democracy from within and without — by allowing outrageous partisan rumor and insidious enemy subterfuge to continue to worm their ways through our already traumatized electoral system.
In the months since the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the behavior of Donald J. Trump and his inner circle during his campaign and the early days of his presidency, media, pundits and politicians have used every leak, hint, filing and opaque utterance from the office of the special counsel as a tool to advance their individual agendas.
As a consequence, for us, the American public — we who most deserve to understand the peril to which our democracy might have been exposed — the Mueller investigation has been a chaotic Rorschach blot, interpreted from a spectrum of unrecognizably different perspectives and filtered through the worst and wildest partisan and conspiratorial lenses.
We know certain things already, from Mueller’s dozens of criminal indictments and the filings that have arrived alongside them: That our political system was penetrated by enemy hackers; that our digital culture was insidiously warped by false and distorted messages; that foreign intelligence operatives interacted many multiple times with a surprising array of Trump campaign officials and insiders, dangling the political temptation of illicitly obtained intel about Trump’s Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, and the personal temptation of investments that could deliver Trump vast financial rewards.
The fear here? All these factors already are enough to make the 2016 election, in retrospect, seem a monstrous historical abnormality. And the truth is that even with access to the contents of the full report, we will never know to what, if any, degree Trump’s victory was dependent on these malignant currents.
(According to CNN’s reporting “the process of determining what else can be released from special counsel Report Mueller’s report and scrubbing it of grand jury material, among other things, ‘has begun,’ according to a Justice Department official.” But it noted there is no timeline for release.)
Meanwhile, without access to the full and complete results of Mueller’s investigation, without a sober and judicious unpacking of the unusual nature of 2016 and the disturbing forces that shaped Trump’s ascent to the presidency, it is impossible for us to vaccinate ourselves against a replication of the same in 2020 and beyond.
Though Mueller cleared Trump of the accusation that he engaged in collusion with Russia, the investigation has caused redolent bubbles of swamp gas to boil loose, pointing to distressing ties between Trump’s closest intimates and deeply unsavory foreign actors. Given the array of individuals Mueller interviewed, it’s likely that the report would provide illuminating details on those connections.
Mueller decided not to formally weigh in on whether Trump obstructed justice — stating that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” — but the American people deserve to know whether he explores within the report the many ways in which the behavior of Trump and his loyal allies complicated and perhaps compromised the work, by firing or threatening to fire personnel, slandering investigators and pre-emptively attacking its results.
In the absence of facts arrived at through careful investigation, we are left to speculate. It’s time for speculation to end.
A release of the complete report won’t ground the endless flights of fancy (or not) that Americans have engaged in around what Trump and his people did in 2017 and 2018. But it will begin to provide closure to a process that has been agonizing and disruptive on both sides of the aisle, while also giving Congress and the American electorate the critical tools we need to defend our political system’s foundation. We must have the tools to transparently evaluate the choices we’ll have ahead of us in the 2020 election.
It is incumbent upon Attorney General William Barr to deliver Mueller’s report to us in full, with urgent haste, well before this next campaign cycle begins in earnest. Doing so shouldn’t be a matter of ideology — but of duty to the core principles of our republic.