Mueller's facts vs Trump's spin

Mueller's facts vs Trump's spin
© Getty

Whether the Mueller report is a catalyst for impeachment or how it affects the 2020 presidential race still has to play out.

One clear conclusion from reading it — I've done it twice — is that Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpPelosi arrives in Jordan with bipartisan congressional delegation Trump says his Doral resort will no longer host G-7 after backlash CNN's Anderson Cooper mocks WH press secretary over Fox News interview MORE chronically lies and demands others lie for him. That's laid out with great specificity in the 448-page document. As they try to refute the damning report, Trump and his team continue to lie with phony charges, such as:

The Mueller team was a bunch of left-wingers out to destroy Trump. It was "13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters and Zero Republicans," Trump tweeted as recently as last week.

ADVERTISEMENT

The truth? There were 19 members of the core Mueller team; 14 were on loan from the Justice Department. Mueller is a Republican who was appointed by a Republican.

Some of the others have made campaign contributions to Democrats, a little to Republicans too, but none are the partisan gunslingers who populated independent counsel Ken Starr's team two decades ago.

The "Deep State" of entrenched left-wingers engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow Trump, precipitated by a phony Democratic-sponsored dossier. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamErdoğan got the best of Trump, experts warn Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' The Memo: Trump's sea of troubles deepens MORE (R-S.C.), the chief Trump cheerleader in an effort to head off a right-wing challenger in his Senate re-election race next year, vows to investigate the investigators of this alleged witch hunt, with a special emphasis on the dossier compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, a Russia intelligence expert.

In reality, the probe of Trump and the Russians was set off in the spring of 2016 when a Trump functionary boasted to a foreign diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonJill Stein: 'I am not a Russian spy' Trump criticizes Clinton for suggesting Jill Stein was Russian asset Graham: I'm seeking to make Trump successful 'but not at all costs' MORE to share with the Trump campaign. The diplomat reported that to the Americans. With that, and the unusual number of ties Trump associates had with Russians, it would have been an unthinkable abdication of responsibility not to investigate a political adversary secretly trying to interfere in our election.

The notorious Steele dossier initially was funded by a conservative Republican and later picked up by Hillary Clinton's campaign; Steele says he was unaware of the funding. The dossier contained some wildly erroneous charges and exaggerations. But the central contention that the Russians were trying to sabotage the American election to help Donald Trump win the presidency was correct. Often overlooked, these were raw intelligence files which Steele acknowledged were only partially correct.

The press was a villain, promoting fake news. "It was all a malicious, preposterous lie given wall-to-wall media coverage despite zero evidence," charged Sarah SandersSarah Elizabeth SandersWhite House correspondent April Ryan to moderate fundraising event for Buttigieg White House press secretary defends lack of daily briefings: Trump 'is the most accessible president in history' Sarah Huckabee Sanders says she is 'relentlessly' attacked by women MORE, the factually-challenged White House press secretary.

ADVERTISEMENT

Actually the Mueller report is a compelling vindication of the best journalism. There were a few bad stories — Buzzfeed's charge that Trump instructed lawyer Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenTrump offers condolences on frequent foe Cummings: 'Very hard, if not impossible, to replace' Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 Schiff says committees will eventually make impeachment inquiry transcripts public MORE to lie to Congress, a McClatchy story that Mueller had evidence Cohen met in 2016 with the Russians in Prague — and the cable news pundits went overboard, as they so often do. But the reporting of the New York Times and the Washington Post, the leaders on this story, was remarkably accurate. Top reporters like the New York Times' Mark Mazzetti practice a different journalism than pundits like Rachel MaddowRachel Anne MaddowMegyn Kelly appearance on Fox News draws more than 4 million viewers Krystal Ball dismisses Ukraine scandal as 'manufactured drama' Rachel Maddow signs onto 'Batwoman' TV series MORE of MSNBC; they shouldn't be conflated.

Look at the questions Mueller posed to Trump; more than a few were gleaned from Post and Times stories.

Trump turncoats, like former White House counsel Don McGahn, are untrustworthy.

The president's lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, has charged McGahn's testimony to the special counsel was "hopelessly confused" and wrong. Others anonymously charged that he made up stuff to protect himself.

McGahn is an experienced lawyer who talked under oath for some 30 hours to the Mueller team, reporting the multiple occasions that Trump tried to get him to get Mueller fired and to lie for him. Under these circumstances, of course, he told the truth.

Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiLewandowski told by Fox Business host he was being 'a little slurry' during interview The Hill's Morning Report - New impeachment battle: Pompeo vs. House Dems Lewandowski: 'Fair' to say Senate run might not happen MORE, the longtime Trump political operative, acknowledged that the president pressured him to force the attorney general to limit Mueller's investigation to any future Russian interference and not 2016. That was obstruction.

The public isn't fooled by these lies. Polls show people don't believe Trump's claim that he was "exonerated" by the investigation, and a majority believe he engaged in either illegal or unethical conduct in dealing with Russian dictator Vladimir PutinVladimir Vladimirovich PutinJill Stein: 'I am not a Russian spy' Congress plays party politics regarding Syria and Saudis Pelosi, Schumer hit 'flailing' Trump over 'sham ceasefire' deal MORE.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for the Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.