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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 3/25/19

As Mueller Finds No Collusion, Did Press Overhype Russiagate? Glenn Greenwald vs. David Cay Johnston

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>As congressional Democrats call on the Justice Department to release the full Mueller report, we speak to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists who have closely followed the probes into Russia's meddling in the 2016 election: Glenn Greenwald, a founding editor of The Intercept and a leading critic of the media coverage of alleged Russian collusion, and David Cay Johnston, formerly of The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org, who has written critically about Donald Trump for decades. His most recent book is "It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America."


This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. To talk more about the Mueller report, we're joined by two guests. Glenn Greenwald, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, one of the founding editors of The Intercept, has been one of the most prominent skeptics of the Russiagate probe. He's speaking to us from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. David Cay Johnston is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter previously with The New York Times, now founder and editor of DCReport.org. He's been reporting on Donald Trump since the 1980s, has written, well, most recently, two books on him, his most recent, It's Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let's begin with David Cay Johnston in Rochester, New York. David, your response to the Mueller report and to William Barr's summary of what he found?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, we don't know what's in the Mueller report. We only know the brief interpretation offered by Bill Barr. But that interpretation opens whole new cans of worms. The standard here should not be beyond a reasonable doubt. That's the criminal standard. The standard is the constitutional requirements, which are faithful execution of the office and high crimes and misdemeanors, which doesn't require any criminal offense of any kind, as the 18 impeachment proceedings we've had in this country have established beyond a doubt.

We need to see the full report. We need to have Mueller's testimony. We need to know what it was that Mueller learned about such matters as Jared Kushner asking to use secret Russian diplomatic communications gear to contact the Kremlin without the knowledge of American intelligence, something the Russians made available to us to know by the way they transmitted a cable, knowing it would be read by intelligence agencies. We need to know why Don Jr., who said, "Love it," when offered help by the Kremlin, was not questioned or indicted -- most likely because his lawyers said he would take the Fifth Amendment. But why was he not charged? And we need to know about why he didn't call FBI counterintelligence, which is the only thing any decent and patriotic American would do when given an offer by a foreign government to interfere in our election. And there's a lot more that we need to know. We need to see the report in full. We need to hear Mueller's testimony about it, not just Bill Barr's interpretation of it, especially given that Barr sought this job and has positioned himself as someone who believes, essentially, the president virtually cannot commit a crime under our Constitution, certainly not obstruction of justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Glenn Greenwald, your response?

GLENN GREENWALD: This is the saddest media spectacle I've ever seen, since I began practicing journalism in 2005. And what makes it even sadder is to watch all of the people who vested their journalistic credibility into what proved to be a complete and total fraud and scam continue to try and cling to some vestige of credibility by continuing to spin conspiracy theories that are even more reckless and more unhinged than the ones to which we've been subjected for three years. The great journalist and writer Matt Taibbi wrote in an article over the weekend, and I agree with him completely, that as humiliating as the media debacle was leading up to the Iraq War, what they did over the last three years in the Trump-Russia story makes all of that look like a pimple. Even though obviously the Iraq War was much more destructive because it led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people, the errors and lies and falsehoods and recklessness and speculation that we've been subjected to, over and over and over, that Robert Mueller just definitively debunked, is far more humiliating journalistically, far more unjustifiable journalistically. And who knows where it will lead to? It's ratcheted up tensions between the two most dangerous nuclear-armed powers in the world, Russia and the United States, that the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists says has brought us to two minutes before midnight on their Doomsday Clock. So it's also been extremely dangerous in ways that we don't yet know.

Let me just say two things. Number one, everybody knows -- and I don't care how many people try and rewrite history -- that the central question that everybody was obsessed with for three years was: Did Donald Trump, his family members and his aides conspire and collaborate and collude with the Russians to interfere in the election? And contrary to what David just said, it is absolutely false that Robert Mueller simply said there's not enough evidence to convict with a reasonable doubt. He said something much, much, much, much more important than that. He said that after 20 months of investigation, with a huge team of FBI agents and prosecutors, heralded as being the most aggressive and skilled in the world, we found no evidence that this happened. That's what Robert Mueller said. The whole thing was a scam and a fraud from the beginning. And The New York Times headline today says that as clearly as it can: Robert Mueller finds no collusion between Trump and Russia. That was the focal point of the entire narrative, no matter how much people try and change the focus.

The second point, this idea that, "Oh, we haven't heard from Robert Mueller yet, we've only heard Bill Barr's summary of him," yes, that's true. But Bill Barr has been friends with Robert Mueller for 30 years. They come from the same Republican circles in the Department of Justice. They both worked together at the Bush Justice Department, the Bush 41 Justice Department. All we heard for 20 months is that Robert Mueller is a man of the greatest integrity and patriotism. The idea, the very idea -- just think about this -- that he would allow Bill Barr to run around making false and misleading distortions about what the Mueller team found, and not one person on the Mueller team, including Bob Mueller himself, would stand up and say, "Wait a minute, he is distorting what our findings was," that is laughable. That's exactly the kind of conspiracy theories that led to this entire mess in the first place, and we should no longer tolerate this. Rachel Maddow and MSNBC are the Judy Millers of this story, except, unlike Judy Miller, who was scapegoated for doing things that her male colleague did and had her career destroyed, Rachel Maddow will continue to make $10 million a year for NBC because she's their most valuable brand, and there will be no reckoning and consequences for this story that the media got radically, fundamentally and deliberately wrong for almost three years now in a very dangerous way.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston?

DAVID CAY JOHNSTON: Well, you notice Glenn doesn't dispute what are established facts. We know that the Russians offered to help the Trump campaign. We have the emails proving that. And we know that Don Jr. was not interviewed. We know, as a matter of fact, unless the Russians fabricated the cable, in which case you would have expected denials from the Trump camp, that Jared Kushner sought to use the communications gear of the Russian diplomats and that they put their cable on this out in a way knowing it would be intercepted. We know, and Glenn certainly wouldn't dispute, that the Russians tried to interfere in our election.

Now, all of these facts are fundamental to what matters here. And the issue that matters is this began as a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal investigation. And I don't think [William] Barr has completely, as Glenn suggested, distorted what was said here. But I think his four-page summary doesn't give us the full picture. After all, he quoted -- the only place he quoted the Mueller report was that it did not exonerate Donald Trump on the issue of obstruction of justice. We need to see the report. And we can't draw the kind of conclusions that Glenn is drawing without actually seeing the document. There's a lot of gray area here. And the standard for the conduct of the president is not the standard of criminal liability.

And just one other point, let's remember that Donald Trump, who studied at the foot of Roy Cohn, as a young man, beat four grand jury investigations. He escaped scrutiny for his role in the international drug trafficking of Joseph Weichselbaum, whom he wrote a letter saying he was a stand-up guy who shouldn't be punished, and engaged in behavior that made no sense unless the two of them were in the business together, that Trump has a long and thoroughly documented history of lying, of filing false reports, of cheating on his taxes, having been tried twice for income tax fraud and lost both of those cases -- they were civil cases, but lost both. So, I don't think you can draw the conclusions Glenn has drawn without seeing the Mueller report in full.

AMY GOODMAN: David Cay Johnston, let me ask, I mean, you have been exposing Donald Trump for decades -- not around the issue of collusion with Russia. Is it possible that what Donald Trump is guilty of is corruption, not collusion? I don't think Glenn Greenwald is saying that Donald Trump is innocent in all areas, but he is saying, of this investigation, of these charges, he is.

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