Book Review: The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report by Robert S. Mueller makes for a somewhat different kind of book review.

Well, I did it. I slugged through the entire report. It’s all free online, don’t even have to steal it.

As eBooks go, this is not the most entertaining page-turner. There are a lot of footnotes, for example, which tend to interrupt the flow.

Moreover, as a narrative this is one of the all-time most anticlimactic stories ever told.

Rather than a book to be judged on its own merits, it’s really more about the news cycle context than anything else.

All this makes it rather difficult to review.

But let us try. Firstly, the context of Volume I: This section heavily details Russian interference in that infamous 2016 election via social media spamming as well the DNC hack. Is this still a controversial fact in some circles? If you are interested in learning about the IRA—the Internet Research Agency—this report is as good a source as any. If you dismiss it as a left-wing conspiracy theory fake news or something, then apparently nothing will truly convince especially some legalistic government report.

The schizophrenia of the U.S. government at this time is quite fascinating, how the highest level of the executive branch can have such a different spin than the entire intelligence apparatus (although recent tweets may have finally admitted that he had help, if tweets are something we are going to get into then).

Which perhaps is the whole point. In these post-truth times, can anyone be convinced of anything anymore?

Then we have endless detail on collusion. Yes, outright collusion. There’s a colorful cast of characters, such as foreign policy “expert” George Papadopoulos and the ever-present diplomat Sergey Kislyak. There’s Richard Gates, Roger Stone, and of course Don Jr. and the big tower meeting. What a stream of reports and reports and reports about how much they welcomed Russian help and even tried and failed to further collude but couldn’t get as far as they’d have liked due to incompetence.

It does not make for a very satisfying read. To learn all this, and then find out that the legal definition for conspiracy is so narrow that they ultimately find it inconclusive and ultimately don’t charge the big guy. Cue the insipid right-wing exoneration talking points.

One particularly close example of what may be illegal, as far as specifically trading campaign work for favors, is the question of the Republican party changing their stance on the Russian invasion of the Ukraine at the RNC convention. This highlights the entire problem with the report right there–we have a question that is unanswered. Did or didn’t officials in the campaign trade influence? This subject even part of the written answers with the president, which were dismissed and sadly not followed up on. More on that failure of a Q & A below.

These near-misses continue; again and again it’s a running theme. Was it illegal for Don Jr. to have a meeting with Russians, whether or not it was really about adoptions? The answer is yes, due to campaign finance law, that’s clearly against the law. But then… they say let’s go ahead and not charge him because he probably didn’t know it was illegal and it would be hard to prove intent in court and whatever in this case ignorance of the law is apparently a valid excuse.

So much painstaking research, and so much giving up. These impossible standards keep making it frustrating for the reader.

Not that there aren’t plenty of convictions and crimes uncovered. Paul Manafort was a pretty large get, let’s acknowledge that. But when it comes to the most powerful of the powerful, there is a sense of exasperation. That in the end, America is about protecting those who are too big to lose and the system will always find a way to make sure those on top will never face the consequences they deserve.

And at least we reach Volume II: Obstruction. Here is where it may or may not get good. There are the ten examples of the president unambiguously obstructing justice to the best of his ability. Public witness-tampering, changing the story on firing Comey, live on TV no less, demands of loyalty, et al. There’s quite a lot of that whole thing.

[And please don’t give me that line about how there can’t be obstruction if there’s no underlying crime. 1: That’s not true, period. If it was true, wouldn’t it be an incentive to obstruct because if it works criminals would get away with the crime? 2: More importantly, there were so many crimes! The president’s own personal lawyer Cohen lied about the Moscow tower, is in jail now, and let’s not even get into the campaign finance violation with the porn star affair hush money. If nothing else simply firing Comey in order to protect his friend Michael Flynn, a convicted criminal, then that is clearly obstructing justice. It’s not only about evidence of collusion/conspiracy at the top. There’s still plenty of obstructing investigations if only to protect his dirty circle. If that’s not corrupt, what is?]

So, then it all ends in a pathetically lame copout in which DOJ guidelines say they can’t indict so they don’t bother indicting. Yes, Mueller went on television trying to explain his logic puzzle of how you can’t charge a crime against someone who can’t go to trial, even though at the same time it’s not an exoneration, punting to Congress as he hints that only they can hold the office to account. Yeah, like oversight is going to go well.

This is the core frustration of this document, and of this entire era we live in. It is postmodern enough that everybody gets their own talking point. You get to interpret the entire investigation however you want. Witch hunt or a valid call for impeachment, pick and chose your own interpretation. Attorney General Barr certainly wants you to interpret it in a political way that benefits his side, based on his initial coverup-y behavior. Mueller simply wants you to be smart enough to read 400 pages and decide for yourself (one of the most naïve positions possible in this age).

In the end, everyone is unsatisfied and the waters couldn’t be muddier. So if you want a sense of closure after reading this, you will still have a long while to wait as we see how history unfolds. So far, to put it lightly, I’m not sensing anything close to a national consensus in the near future.

Isn’t it amazing? This was supposed to be it, and the polls show that right-wingers still believe what they believe, they even have a few quotes to highlight to defend their extreme rationalizations. While the rest of the country vaguely listen to mainstream news summations and have ever so slightly leaned towards kinda’ maybe let’s-investigate-more-and-maybe-impeach-even-though-it’s-for-naught-cause-of-the-Senate.

Sadly, it seems that perhaps obstruction totally works and the people will never know. The appendix in which the president submits his written answers are certainly more of the same. Mueller even says more or less outright that the questionnaire isn’t enough, but he must give up because a subpoena would take too long and he wants to get this damn thing over with. Over thirty answers of “I don’t remember” with no chance to follow up. Once again, the system let’s the powerful get away with anything.

Hell, perhaps all the good stuff is redacted. There are a lot of redactions. So if this is a coverup, then one can only conclude that coverups work.

The story is still continuing. The television drama won’t be over any time soon. In the meantime, the vast majority of Americans will not read this free report. They won’t even read the summaries.

I suppose all that’s left is to depend on the Democrats, and that is a sad notion indeed.

The country is in trouble.

For these reasons above, for this humble reader at this particular time in history, one can only judge this book however full of facts to be a terrible disappointment.

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Fire and Fury review, or Too Much F*cking Tr*mp

Although it’s not my primary focus, I do write about politics on occasion (it has been a while). I try to stay informed, and as an American I hope I have well-thought out opinions worth sharing. And, of course, these days how can one not pay attention!

Coupling that with my propensity to write book reviews, I would like to go outside of my lane a bit and do an extensive review of the explosive new book Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff.

No doubt you’ve heard of it, as well as all the fallout. This is my take.

Overall I think the book is excellent and damn what a fascinating read, but there is a certain challenge in it. Not that I think criticisms of the accuracy are what’s wrong—I will defend them below. But the problem is that that living in this age and rehashing the past year has been very mentally stressful. And at the same time to read, there’s keeping up with the endless barrage of new scandals which threatens to overwhelm my feeble mind.

Simply put, too much fucking Tr*mp. I get conflicted because this is important and worth paying attention to. Yet the sad fact of it is that he is the history’s all-time greatest attention whore and good or bad press he no doubt relishes in all the constant fretting. Note that in my small way I try to rebel against this by hereafter only referring to Prez you-know-who as 45.

As to the merits of the book, here I go: I genuinely think it is excellent and everyone should read it. It came at the right time, just when one may worry that we are getting used to it and normalization has set in, this amazing story was suddenly published to usher in more fresh outrages. And fatigue or not, outrages is the sensible reaction. Michael Wolff has done a great service.

Starting from the scene of election night at the campaign when they shockingly won, the premise from the get-go that no one expected him to win. The campaign was a terrible mess, as was reported on at the time, thought the one guy who believed he could make it happen was Bannon. From beginning to end, Bannon is certainly the protagonist of the book.

Wolff lays out the insanity of recent history in a readable and dare I say entertaining manner. It’s not only the dry facts, but a narrative arc that somehow all makes sense. Some may criticize that but I think it is a perfectly fair way engage the reader. There is even commentary on the reality show nature of the current presidency to create this sort of drama, which we’ve all been witnessing. Usually history is made sense of and turned into story long after the fact, but this is the new postmodern age isn’t it? Wolff is simply transcribing in the most appropriate way possible.

Some may think it grossly irresponsible for Wolff to relay rumors, but so far there isn’t anything specific which has turned out not to be true. No one has denied any quotes. Wolff is upfront in the book when the same events often have competing interpretations from different camps. I find the author’s judgment to always be fair. If there are later corrections made then so be it.

If one can just call a spade a spade, we know it’s all basically true. Like, the way the book states that 45 hated his own inauguration and was visibly fighting with Melania. Anyone can watch the videos to know this is truth. Another example that comes to mind is when Bannon gave the speech at CPAC which was a dig at Jared, it’s obvious! All the behind the scenes footage is valid and America knows it. Above all, the glaringly open secret that 45 is an idiot and everyone who works for him constantly talks about it.

Moreover, the rumory nature of the book is what has gotten headlines but for the most part it’s about Michael Wolff’s analysis of public happenings than just the gossip. Wolff, in omniscient narrator fashion, gives thorough critical examination to the firings and the scandals and panic, and without the lame partisanship in so much punditry. Although the central theme that 45 is shallow and empty and doesn’t read and constantly watches TV (an interesting term, he’s “post-literate”) and he can’t control his worst impulses and who refuses to even know that he doesn’t know, barring that overall important point the other characters are indeed analyzed with respect. There’s still more to learn about 45 beyond his mere stupidity, like the way he prefers loyalty of women. There are the the occasional pop psychological riffs on his motivations to just be liked, paternal-related and otherwise.

In any case, 45 and his defenders have rather had an enormous problem with the concept of objective truth… So why listen to their attacks on Wolff? I for one trust the leaks.

Michael Wolff is clearly talented at writing about politics in surprising ways. For example, he does repeatedly criticize the so-called liberal media. Makes it all the more poignant when he explains the world of right-wing media with its far lower standards of entry. And after all the due respect given to the original core members of the cabinet, it can’t be denied that the unqualified Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller’s promotions towards the end show an absolute problem with finding professional staff. Wolff simply, as they say, tells it like it is. 

One of the most haunting analyses that come to mind is when white supremacist Richard Spencer is declared to be the intellectual base of “Trumpism”, which is all the more a horrifying concept because the more one thinks about it the more it can’t be denied to be true.

Overall, the book is about the disastrous and chaotic infighting which took place in the White House. From chiefs of staff Preibus to Kelly, when it all settles we find ourselves nearly caught up in the low morale present. There’s the Scaramucci affair, which turns out to be yet worse knowing the backstory. Often it’s 45’s own family, Jared and Ivanka, who are the worst of the worst.

If Bannon is the main character, then the utterly incompetent “Jarvanka” family faction proves to be the antagonist. Spoiler: They win in the end. It’s hard to say if that’s a happy or sad ending.

In satisfying faction, by the time of the infamous Charlottesville “many sides” comment, absolutely everybody knows that 45 is a lost cause who cannot do this job. Not to mention the tweets. Then there’s the growing Russian scandal, which initially is given a lot of skepticism but grows worse and worse veering into that incredibly inept Comey firing and then revelations of inexplicable meetings and subsequent coverups and obstruction of justice allegations and Rosenstein’s revenge in the form of the Mueller Special Counsel. By the conclusion no less an authority than Bannon himself has to admit that eventually this will bring the administration down.

Because we are living this, the story goes on.

The odds indeed are very high that scandal is going to take this administration down, perhaps even soon, but for a reader who has learned so much I am left wondering why the hell it is taking so long.

At last, Bannon loses his job but remains hopeful for the future of his outsider revolution, and the book ends with as much feeling of closure that can be expected. Yet, now we know that due to the fallout of the book Bannon has even been let go from his Breitbart, which does seem just. I just hope to read in the paperback updated edition of Michael Wolff’s take on the latest.

A recurring motif is that 45 as such an anomaly to everyone in Washington, with everyone who doubted the loud-mouthed reality show host having to reluctantly work with what they have. Sadly, as true as the strangeness of this strange chapter of American history is, Wolff does leave something out after all that focus on 45 and his ilk. The question still remains on how America—even if not due to the majority of voters—could let this happen. How can this train wreck of a government have happened and so many citizens supporting such chaos and bigotry and corruption? Those questions may have to be answered by future historians after far more time passes.

Meanwhile, Wolff did his best to explain the inner workings withing Fire and Fury and America must wait and see to further understand and reflect.