Jurisprudence

Don’t Call It the “Mueller Report.” Call it the “Trump Report.”

Its subject is much more relevant than its author.

 Donald Trump gives thumbs up stepping off Air Force One.
President Donald Trump arrives at Palm Beach International Airport in Florida on Friday.
Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images

We’ve been calling it “the Mueller report” throughout the months of anticipation and the past few days’ flurry of activity. Yet, with Special Counsel Robert Mueller having informed Attorney General William Barr that the Mueller investigation is complete, and Barr having previewed the conclusions of that investigation for Congress, it’s time we finally got the name right. Let’s stop calling it the Mueller report and start calling it by the name it deserves: the Trump report.

This correction isn’t about the fact that there are really multiple reports involved, as I’ve explained elsewhere, nor is it just about semantics. It’s about correcting the focus of Congress and the American people at this critical juncture for our democracy. And our focus ultimately shouldn’t be on Mueller and what he did or didn’t find—it should be on Trump and what he did or didn’t do.

A notable example drives home the point. Imagine if Mueller’s months of investigatory work had uncovered a previously undisclosed email in which Trump, as a candidate for the American presidency, had urged Vladimir Putin to hack and find emails of Trump’s rival candidate, Hillary Clinton. Imagine that the email said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be mightily rewarded by our press.”  And imagine if the first we heard of this email were in the so-called Mueller report.

It would be a revelation. The notion that as a U.S. presidential candidate Trump had explicitly pushed a world leader often hostile to America to hack another U.S. presidential candidate’s emails would be a huge finding, perhaps even a proverbial smoking gun. Whatever “collusion” might mean—as others have explained, that’s the wrong thing to look for, but still this word, too, has stuck—the discovery of such a damning email from Trump to Putin would certainly look like Mueller had uncovered collusion.

But here’s the thing: Trump has robbed Mueller of the chance to “find” such a message and include it in his report. That’s because Trump conveyed to Putin the exact language I laid out above, but did it in plain sight. The words above were precisely what Trump said at a July 2016 news conference. What’s more, Trump said this on what proved to be the exact day that the Russians first attempted to hack the servers used by Clinton’s personal office. How do we know that? Thanks to an indictment prepared by none other than Robert Mueller.

All told, Trump’s undermining of the norms governing U.S. presidential elections—in particular, the norm that foreign powers not interfere in such elections and Americans not encourage or help them to do so—was at times so brazen that he in a sense stole the best material from the so-called Mueller report. That is, there wasn’t much for Mueller to report because Trump himself had reported it—to all of us.

And that brings us back to the importance of correcting how we refer to the report that Mueller has now delivered to the attorney general, and which many Democrats in Congress have pledged to fight to obtain in full and share with the American people to the greatest extent possible. Calling it “the Mueller report” reinforces the incorrect idea that what’s important here is what Mueller found or didn’t find. But what Mueller found or didn’t find isn’t the point—the point is to figure out what really happened in 2016, what it says about Trump, and what it means for protecting our elections in 2020 and beyond. In other words, what exactly did Russia do to interfere with America’s presidential election, and more importantly, what exactly did Trump and his team do to encourage and otherwise facilitate that interference?

As the indictment mentioned above demonstrates, Mueller has already provided the American people with an immense service in helping to ferret out and share new aspects of the answers to those key questions. These details will continue to inform our understanding of what happened even if the report falls short of finding that Trump or his team conspired or coordinated with Moscow’s interference campaign—something that the attorney general’s letter to Congress indicates Mueller didn’t establish. The full report, which is still being held by the Department of Justice, surely will contain more information that is relevant and useful to answering these pressing questions. But it is the full set of answers, not the particulars of where those answers came from and what role Mueller played in finding them, that should be our collective focus.

So let’s stop calling it the Mueller report and start calling it the Trump report. Its author matters a whole lot less than its central character.