So what are we to make of the Mueller Report on Trump’s dealings with Russia? Here’s The Economist’s take on it.
What to make of the Mueller report: Robert Mueller’s magnum opus
The first 170 pages concern Russia. … Paul Manafort, Mr Trump’s campaign chair, who was deep in debt to a Russian oligarch, shared internal polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, one of his Kiev-based employees with apparent links to both that oligarch and Russian intelligence. Even Rick Gates, Mr Manafort’s right-hand man, believed Mr Kilimnik was a “spy”. That did not stop Mr Manafort from meeting Mr Kilimnik. George Papadopoulos, a junior foreign-policy advisor who pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators, tried to let the campaign know early on that the Russians had compromising material on Mrs Clinton (nobody thought to tell the FBI). Donald Trump junior arranged a meeting with a Russian lawyer who promised “dirt” on Mrs Clinton. And of course Mr Trump himself was pursuing a Trump Tower Moscow project until just five months before the election, while simultaneously pushing for better relations with Moscow. None of this may have been illegal, but had voters known about it they might have made a different choice. …
The report’s second part deals with obstruction of justice. … The striking thing about this section, when read in full, is how self-wounding Mr Trump’s behaviour has been. Had he simply kept quiet, and let Mr Mueller complete his investigation into his campaign’s links into Russia, the obstruction investigation never would have happened. Instead, he interfered clumsily on many occasions, allowing the special counsel to amass a damning record of the president’s truculence, dishonesty and contempt for federal investigators.
The report itself is quite an important, historical document, though.
Mueller Mania is in full swing, and people are paying a pretty penny for the free report
The Mueller Report is available for free on the Justice Department’s site (here). But that didn’t stop publishers from printing it for profit.
Simon & Schuster’s Scribner published a version “presented with related materials by The Washington Post” — available for $10.22 as a paperback or $7.99 on the Kindle — that topped Amazon’s best-seller rankings. Publisher Skyhorse’s version, featuring an intro by a Harvard law professor, claimed the #2 spot (at $9.20 in paperback); publisher Melville House’s straight-up version (just $7.27) took the #3 spot. …
People aren’t buying books, they’re buying mementos
The fact that people bought enough copies of a free report to mint not 1 but 3 separate best-sellers may seem unlikely, or even downright dumb.
But it’s not the first time a government document has gone big: The Starr Report (about President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky) and the Pentagon Papers both became popular best-sellers after printing in 1998 and 2011, respectively.
Perceptive publishers know that people don’t buy these books for the info they contain, but the emotions they evoke: A physical Mueller Report meta-memorializes months of dramatic, scandalous, and conversation-starting news cycles in a single, boring book.
You would have thought we had had enough by now.
Remember when Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, shot himself in the foot with some sloppy document formatting? Mueller’s report wasn’t much better, initially — it was just a collection of scanned images.
The official PDF of the Mueller report has been updated in a subtle but important way
The decision immediately elicited groans from people trying to search the report for juicy details. A giant file of images has no text to search. It was also condemned by a group involved in setting technical specifications for the portable document format: “This deliberate and unnecessary act made the document substantially harder for anyone and everyone to use, forever,” wrote Duff Johnson, executive director of the PDF Association, in a delightful review of the file’s nerdiest details.
News organizations and Mueller fanatics quickly addressed this problem by running the PDF through a process known as optical character recognition (OCR) to add searchable text to the document. So, to review: The Mueller report was written on a computer, then printed out on paper, scanned back into digital images, and finally regenerated into text using software.
Of course, not everything in the report has been made available to us. As this image from FlowingData shows, a significant amount of redaction has taken place.
The redacted version (pdf) of the Mueller report was released today. Here’s the thumbnailed view for a sense of the redactions.
And as this Quartz Obsession post explains, redaction is big business.
95 million: Documents classified by the United States in 2012
2 million: Employees the National Archives estimates it would take, given a year and a half, to review one year’s worth of current classified output of one US intelligence agency
14,462: Peak size of the US government’s World War II-era Office of Censorship, whose duties included redacting letters
But let’s end this on a more creative note.
The Trump-era boom in erasure poetry
Published less than a month after Trump’s first executive order banned citizens from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days, “Form N-400 Erasures” is an example of erasure poetry, a poetic form that has spiked in popularity since Trump’s elections galvanized a culture of resistance online. Also known as blackout or redaction poetry, this is a type of poetry created from the substrate material of an existing text. Obscure many of the words, these poems command, and you will find the sentences that have been there all along.
While erasure can mimic the violence of the state, it can also expose the human cost of suppression, and symbolically restore a voice to the silenced.
Erasing the language of Trump, on the other hand, provides the particular satisfaction of watching Trump say exactly what he means, stripped of bombast. That perverse pleasure drives “When You Win It’s Winning,” Ariel Yelen’s erasures of four of his speech transcripts. Here, Trump is hyperbolic and boastful as ever, but in erasing certain words, Yelen has him articulate the implications of his rhetoric. “I / want / a new America / an / America / so / reckless / s / o / disastrous / s / o / chao / t / ic /,” he says. “I / am / what is wrong with this country.”