Holly Baxter: 'President isn't an evil mastermind - but has tried to run his country like one of his businesses'
'OH my God. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f***ed," Donald Trump said when he learned about the appointment of a special counsel, we found out after the release of the Mueller report. Considering this, it's incredible how the president and his fellow Republicans managed to turn the narrative around after William Barr's initial statement.
Since the release of the redacted report, it will be more difficult for triumphant crows to echo around Congress (not that some Republicans won't try). But because of its nuance - something which we should always have expected from the leak-proof, anti-sensationalist Robert Mueller - it will be equally difficult for Democrats to use this report as fodder for impeachment or sanction.
All of this is interesting in itself, but perhaps the most interesting part is that the president and his comms team were apparently confident that they could remove segments from an interview at will, essentially using Fox as a personal propaganda channel.
The report details how the president attempted to influence its details and release, at one point stating: "The president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."
It is clear Trump himself saw nothing wrong with throwing his weight around in a way that was self-protective and borderline megalomaniacal.
He "engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation," wrote Mueller.
He "attempted to remove the special counsel; he sought to have Attorney General Sessions unrecuse himself and limit the investigation; he sought to prevent public disclosure of information about the June 9, 2016, meeting between Russians and campaign officials; and he used public forums to attack potential witnesses who might offer adverse information and to praise witnesses who declined to co-operate with the government." In other words, he took every available avenue.
It seems like these avenues weren't specifically against the law, but they would be against most people's moral expectations of a president. "No obstruction" doesn't seem to fit the bill as an accurate descriptor of what occurred.
What's clear is that the president wanted the release of this report delayed as long as possible. He claimed he "didn't recall" meetings, details, names and dates more than 30 times. He removed as many people as possible and failed to remove others (including Mueller himself) who he'd rather have seen gone.
The fact that a number of people connected to the executive branch refused to carry out the president's instructions is important and encouraging; however, the report also makes it clear that there was a struggle to maintain real democracy behind the scenes of the Trump presidency, which is deeply worrying.
It reads like Donald Trump, his son Donald Jr, his daughter Ivanka and his son-in-law Jared Kushner all showed a flagrant disregard for democratic institutions in the way we sometimes see rich and powerful people show flagrant disregard for established business practice when large organisations undergo a crisis.
At the beginning of his presidency, there was a lot of talk about Trump being muzzled by more sensible officials. There is certainly evidence that they tried. There's also evidence that Trump strained against the leash on multiple occasions, and thought little of how this might affect the country as a whole.
The report also details how Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) used social media to organise rallies and put out pro-Trump content which was retweeted by "multiple US political figures".
Facebook estimated up to 126 million people could have been contacted through groups on that platform alone; it's thought Twitter added an extra 1.4 million. This is the most heavily redacted section of Mueller's report, with almost all information about the Russian IRA removed.
The IRA pre-dates Trump's campaign and presidency, and its members went on a fact-finding mission to the US in 2014, according to Mueller. In early 2016, "internal IRA documents" showed support for Trump and "an opposition to candidate Clinton".
It's difficult to glean exactly why both Bernie Sanders and Trump caught the eye of the Russians, but we can speculate that an anti-establishment candidate may have been to their liking.
All of which is to say that Trump probably isn't a mastermind with an evil plot to take over the world. What he most likely is - and has been for a while - is amoral, egotistical, narcissistic, in way over his head. And panicking. (© Independent News Service)