Key Takeaway From #MuellerReport: Keeping the "Old Boys Club" Intact

Pattern of Comparitively Light Convictions, AG Barr's Less Transparent Summary Release Expose Disparities

Publisher’s Riff
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by Charles Ellison | @ellisonreport

Without fail there will, of course, be a maelstrom of speculation, innuendo and endless supposition mixed in with journalistic nervous breakdowns and citizen outrage. Regardless of whether there was truly collusion, it’s just the details are buried in the larger report, we don’t know. Or, whether the public can understand the working definition of exoneration and if it applies to the president or not, who knows. Or why Special Counsel Robert Mueller did not pursue further inquiries and indictments, it’s unclear. Confidently expect that the vast majority of your news broadcasts will be consumed with non-stop coverage and relentless pecking at every morsel of angle that attempts to get us all closer to a fuller picture of what’s inside the Mueller Report …

What Happened to all that “Fact Checking?”

…. because no one has seen it, yet. Full disclosure of the Report is

What’s clear is that we’ve crossed yet another new precarious rubicon in journalism after mainstream media being aggressively fixated for so long on “fact checking:” conclusive headlines based on limited availability of facts or the omission of such. For example, headlines - like what’s emblazoned across’s front page - aren’t completely accurate and don’t help fix the broader public damage done ….

The problem here is an assumption of trust. Because the summary is from the Attorney General of the United States, outlets place automatic faith in a government institution’s tailored version of a report no one - including journalists - have seen. Hence, what happened to fact checking? Why the rush to assume what AG Barr is summarizing is complete and honest - when there’s no full report there to comb through? So, how do we know what the Special Counsel “declares?”

And, wasn’t this whole Special Counsel exercise all about obstruction to begin with? Plus, bonus reflection: even Barr himself isn’t denying there was levels of interaction between the Trump 2016 campaign and the Russians (even if there’s no explicit evidence of a coordination agreement).

Fox Guarding the Club House

There should be no real surprise here. As journalist D.L. Chandler puts it

This has been a high level old boys club/network game from the start at which decisions are being made at an altitude far above the average public’s reach. And it’s a process that’s been entirely controlled by primarily White men who are either dominant in or have long navigated and assumed positions of authority in the Republican universe. Current Attorney General William Barr is the same Barr who was the AG for President George H.W. Bush (a Republican), and he supported his then boss Bush I’s pardoning of six key figures in the notorious Iran-Contra Scandal that almost (but did not) topple the previous Republican president Ronald Reagan. And, at the time, Barr was boss to Robert Mueller, who is also a long time Republican and who headed up the Department of Justice’s Criminal Division under AG Barr Episode 1. They’ve been friends ever since. Mueller was also FBI Director under President George W. Bush (II). Barr, as many know, was also offered a job as Trump’s lead defense lawyer on the Russia probe a year before offering him the job as Attorney General.

That’s not to say Mueller did not do the job he was tasked to do. It’s simply realizing that he’s worked diligently within the parameters of a construct controlled, at its core, by partisan motivations whether he likes it or agrees with it or not. That construct, hidden in plain sight, shouldn’t be ignored. There’s no way that it can’t influence outcomes.

It’s fascinating and partly peculiar to watch media casually dismiss these networks and connections as anything more than coincidence and professional proximity. Partly peculiar because, again, it’s not surprising. Yet, it is important to recognize patterns, particularly over the past three decades, of Republican administrations being under much more intense legal and Congressional scrutiny for allegations of corruption and criminal activity, as Rantt’s Rand Engel points out

Figure 1. Presidential administrations corruption comparison

And how those Republican administrations, including the current one, have created vast, very White (mostly male) and very effective (and very close-knit) ecosystems of legal professionals/political operatives who have accumulated essential expertise inside and outside of government. That matters and warrants deeper exploration, especially in the case of a Mueller Report.

Casualties: Public Confidence in Government

Legal minutiae and Constitutional conflict aside, the way in which this Report has been released thus far (because, really, it hasn’t been released) is further exacerbating the crisis of public confidence in government - and, yes, media, as well. Those numbers are certain to have gotten worse this past weekend.

For a variety of reasons, the average and anxious non-political insider public had anticipated that 1) the Mueller Report would magically make the nation’s “Trump problem” go away and 2) that it would be released in its complete form. Even though seasoned observers could see the writing on the wall months ago - with so much skepticism and ambiguity hovering over Washington as to whether newly installed AG Barr would be fully transparent - the public, clearly, did not see this scenario coming. What this episode does is validate the opinion that “the system is rigged” and the following, much more dangerous, counter-productive view that “my vote does not matter, so why do this anymore?” That is being driven by historically low and crisis level drops in public confidence in government, see Gallup’s most recent numbers here

The 2018 American Institutional Confidence Poll shows a similar story, with greater public trust in the military - which is a non-civilian institution - compared to all institutions, including all civilian government institutions …

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The number of people dissatisfied with democracy is nearly equal to the number of people who are - and a quarter are on the fence about it …

Even more concerning is the high percentages of younger people who prefer alternatives to democracy. One might ask for more specifics: What’s a more preferred alternative? …

Here’s what the trend lines show, according to Pew

Lower public confidence will, naturally, result in lower public participation in elections. That could be very problematic in 2020.

Confirmation: The “Justice System” Works …. For Those Equipped to Game It

The surreptitious “release” of the Mueller Report also confirms what many know, particularly those who suffer routine and disproportionate discrimination from the justice system: that it only works for those who are either highly capable of navigating it or are well-resourced enough to afford protection when faced with it.

If anything, the Special Counsel exercise has proceeded in a way that has still left protection layers for wealthy or well-connected and mostly White male players intact. Indictments and convictions have resulted from this investigation, but there are no more - reportedly - being planned from this closed investigation, which translates into the president himself and other key players walking away from it unscathed (for now). And the convictions have been relatively light considering the corruptive and, arguably, treasonous scale of some crimes: none of the White men convicted have received sentences no more than several years (former campaign chairman Paul Manafort received just less than 4).

The inequalities have been nakedly placed on display. The signal this Report sent is that the criminal justice definitely works differently for some depending on networks, background and resources. That’s a continuous and corroding problem in criminal justice. As Jessica Steinberg notes in the Connecticut Law Review

“Over the past several years, approximately nineteen million civil cases have been filed annually in the lowest rungs of state court. These tribunals provide the only forum for most Americans to seek restraining orders, resolve divorce and custody matters, defend against evictions, prosecute wage theft, and fight debt collection. In the 1970s, nearly every litigant who brought or defended a matter in state court was represented by counsel. Today, states report that in family law, domestic violence, landlord-tenant, and small claims matters, seventy to ninety-eight percent of cases involve at least one unrepresented litigant. It is no exaggeration to assert that pro se litigation—primarily involving the indigent—now dominates the landscape of state courts.The inability of most parties to obtain access to counsel profoundly influences our justice system.”

Fordham Law School’s National Access to Justice index shows how these disparities play out in terms of legal aid representation …