This is the original sin of the Trump presidency: he and his crew aided and abetted the Russian attack by lying about it and running interference for the Russians. And contrary to what Conway asserted, the Trump crowd, after the election, lied about most of these interactions. Trump and Trump Jr. lied -- about the Trump Tower meeting, claiming it had been merely a discussion of Russian adoption policy. Manafort lied to Mueller's investigators about his meeting with Kilimnik. (By the way, Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser, was indicted by Mueller for lying about his efforts during the campaign to contact Wikileaks as it pumped out Democratic material swiped by the Russians.)
One of Trump's biggest lies about Russia was exposed nearly a year after the election: While running for president, he had told voters that he had no business links with Russia, yet for much of the campaign his Trump Organization had been secretly negotiating a deal to develop a Trump tower in Moscow -- which could have landed Trump hundreds of millions of dollars and which likely could not have proceeded if Trump had dared to speak negatively about Putin. Such a whopping conflict of interest is a huge scandal, with or without any direct coordination between Trump and Russia's covert operators. And for that Moscow venture, Michael Cohen, Trump's fixer, had communicated with Putin's office and asked for assistance. Cohen later admitted to lying to Congress about this.
There were contacts with Russia and lies about those contacts -- and false denials that provided cover for the Russian attack. How can all this be regarded as not a scandal? Especially before the full contents of the Mueller report, which might contain new information about these parts of the story, is made public, if that ever happens.
And there's another matter not covered by Barr's skinny summary: the counterintelligence inquiry that was part of Mueller's probe. This was the investigation of whether Russia had manipulated or influenced Trump or anyone within his campaign or circle. The FBI's Trump-Russia investigation began under FBI chief James Comey in the summer of 2016 as a counterintelligence project, not a criminal investigation. But as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said this week, "It is not clear whether, or to what extent, the Mueller report, which is focused on prosecutorial decisions, will even discuss counterintelligence findings." (Counterintelligence investigations are super-secret, often relying on classified intelligence gathering, and usually do not end with prosecutions or public pronouncements.)
It always seemed quite possible -- probable -- that the Russians did not need to conspire directly with Trump or his campaign to go after Democratic targets or to mount a disinformation campaign boosting Trump and discrediting Clinton. Yet Trump, by claiming this foreign adversary was not attacking the United States, made it easier for Putin to pull this off. Whether the Trump gang helped the Russian operation deliberately or inadvertently, it committed a foul act that undermined national security and a national election. Anyone who doesn't accept this -- Trump and his lieutenants assisting the attack, whether or not a crime was committed -- as significant wrongdoing deserving investigation and opprobrium ought not to be considered a serious voice in any discussion of the Trump-Russia scandal.
Yet now there are many rushing to the their keyboards and strutting before television cameras to declare the scandal was nothing more than trickery concocted by sore-loser Democrats and unscrupulous journalists. Far from cooking up anything, many reporters worked hard to slice through the lies knitted by Trump and his allies and revealed many of the essential facts noted above. The Russia-gate detractors and the Trump champions are deliberately and deceptively narrowing the question to focus only on direct conspiracy between the Trump camp and the Kremlin, pertaining specifically to the attack. They are embracing Trump's own self-serving standard.
They are studiously ignoring what has already been established: Moscow waged information warfare against the United States, Trump's campaign enthusiastically engaged with Russians while the attack was transpiring (conveying to Moscow that it did not mind the Kremlin's intervention), and Trumpists lied about these interactions and misled the public about the Russian operation. All these gleeful Russia-gate deniers now exploiting the minimalist Barr letter to diminish or suppress the Trump-Russia scandal are conducting an exercise of diversion that is of tremendous benefit to two men -- Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin -- and a disservice to the American public.