Happy Sunday, and welcome to another installment of While You Were Offline. What’s you miss on the internet last week? Well, for one, it was a week in which European election results failed to evidence the rumored far-right wave. Meanwhile, in the US, evidence surfaced of partisan shenanigans in planning for the 2020 census, and abortion rights took another hit in Missouri. Think all of that sounds interesting? Oh, just wait, dear readers. Wait and see what else people have been talking about over the past seven days.
Robert Mueller Breaks His Silence
What Happened: After two years, Special Counsel Robert Mueller thought that it was time to speak out. (Spoilers: It has probably been time for Robert Mueller to speak out for quite some time.)
What Really Happened: If there’s been one story that’s dominated the last two months, it’s been the Mueller report. After two years of investigations, Robert Mueller submitted a report of his findings to the Department of Justice back in March; days later, attorney general Bill Barr released a summary of its conclusions, which—the public would find out later—prompted Mueller to complain to Barr that the summary was incomplete and misleading. Sure enough, when the Department of Justice released a more complete, but still redacted version of the report, it revealed Barr’s summary and subsequent pre-release public statement were unbalanced beyond what most would have expected from an attorney general of the United States. In subsequent weeks, Barr has run afoul of Congress, and a question on a lot of lips has been, “When will Robert Mueller, almost supernaturally reticent to make public appearances, speak out about what’s going on?”
Early Wednesday, that question was answered.
The excitement and anticipation surrounding Mueller’s public statement was unmistakable, even if no one knew quite what he was going to say. This was what people had been waiting years for, literally, no matter what was said, after all. When the press conference actually happened, it was short and sweet … depending on your definition of sweet.
While Mueller purposefully didn’t offer any new facts, it didn’t escape everyone’s notice that he clarified the actual findings in his report far more succinctly than Barr did six weeks ago, as shocking as that might have been to some.
Political figures on both sides of the aisle were eager to reply to Mueller’s statement, with each claiming victory. (Of course, one side was relying on people not actually paying attention to what Mueller said, but that was no surprise, really.)
The Takeaway: If Mueller’s statement was intended as a final word on the entire matter, it’s safe to say that it hasn’t succeeded. But it definitely did succeed in demonstrating how few people had been paying attention to the actual content of the report, as opposed to the biased discussions being had around it over the past few weeks.
I Do Not Think That Word Means What You Think It Means
What Happened: The problem with Twitter is that, sometimes, you can say more than you meant to. Especially when you’re the President of the United States.
What Really Happened: The day after Mueller’s statement, President Trump took to Twitter, as is his wont, to gripe, justify and—this time around—offer quite the Freudian slip.
Well, that’s an embarrassing admission.
Here’s an amusing fact: Trump actually posted the tweets, deleted them, and then tweeted them again with the second tweet slightly rephrased—he’d originally written “acquisition” instead of “accusation”—so there’s no real argument to be made that he wasn’t fully aware of what he was saying. That’s not to say the attempt wouldn’t be made, of course:
Even so, after realizing that he’d just admitted publicly that, yes, Russia had helped get him elected, the tweet was out there. (Twice, technically.) After all, it’s not as if the president could just walk out into the driveway of the White House and say exactly the opposite, an hour after that tweet, is it?
Still, at least he’s finally admitting that Russia did, in fact, “invest” in the outcome of the 2016 US election as … an insurance policy in case Hillary Clinton didn’t win?
This certainly seems like how someone who has been exonerated by a report would respond to the figure responsible for that report, doesn’t it?
The Takeaway: There’s no way Trump’s behavior on Thursday morning could be spun as a pure positive. But don’t worry; Thursday wasn’t over just yet.
Trump’s Mexico Tariffs
What Happened: Because the president hates it when people are talking about him in manners in which he can’t control, Thursday evening saw the announcement of a new trade policy with Mexico that was, well, not entirely popular.
What Really Happened: With all eyes on him because of his response to the Mueller statement—not to mention the fact that a second Michael Wolff book about his presidency is imminent; remember how Fire and Fury dominated the headlines last year?—it was widely expected that President Trump was due some extremely ill-considered decision to try and shift the conversation toward a subject of his own choosing. Late Thursday, he announced such a decision.
Well. That was certainly something. Especially considering that USMCA, the Trump administration’s proposed free trade agreement with Mexico and Canada was only agreed upon last November. But surely that’s not going to be a problem, right?
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador released a public letter in response, noting, “social problems are not solved with duties or coercive measures,” and adding, “The Statue of Liberty is not an empty symbol.” Meanwhile, reaction to Trump’s decision in the United States was… Let’s go with “unenthusiastic.”
Even as the market panicked, there was one obvious question unanswered: Will the newly announced tariffs even happen? Not everyone was convinced.
Still, at least people had stopped talking about Russia for a second, so mission accomplished?
The Takeaway: Still, surely all of these tariff announcements and proclamations are definitely helping with that whole “Making America Great Again” thing, right?
Harvey Dent, Is That You?
What Happened: That politicians can be two-faced is nothing new, but every now and then, one can be so contradictory that it seems only appropriate to be surprised by their statements. Step up, Mitch McConnell.
What Really Happened: Here’s the truth: Ruth Bader Ginsburg isn’t getting any younger. With President Trump having installed two people on Supreme Court in his first two years in office—both of whom were surrounded by controversy, either because of their own pasts or the circumstances of the seat being available—it’s a possibility that he might get to name a third justice before he leaves office, shifting the ideological balance of the highest court in the land even further to the right. This week, Senate leader Mitch McConnell revisited one of his most controversial actions—or, as he’s described it, one of his proudest moments—when talking about whether or not he’d allow the president to nominate a new justice to Supreme Court during an election year.
Somewhere, Merrick Garland is laughing bitterly. Garland, you might remember, was President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court in 2016, a nomination infamously blocked by McConnell, who refused to even hold hearings, with his stated reason being that it was too close to an election—one was due eight months later—to even consider such a thing. “The next justice could fundamentally alter the direction of the Supreme Court and have a profound impact on our country, so of course the American people should have a say in the court’s direction,” he said at the time.
The clear contradiction between McConnell’s 2016 stance and his stance in 2019, when his party holds the presidency, was such that McConnell’s communications director was left having to explain it.
This argument didn’t exactly convince anyone. Which is only reasonable, considering that it’s not super true.
The moral of this story, as with so many stories relating to the Supreme Court, is simple: Ruth Bader Ginsburg might need to live forever to solve this problem.
The Takeaway: You take this one, Eric Swalwell.
Who Watches the Watchmen?
What Happened: For once, it wasn’t just those on the right who were concerned about the bona fides of the media, with the record and reporting of the New York Times‘ Maggie Haberman coming under the microscope after she wrote a piece about a former Trump administration figure.
What Really Happened: The phrase “Who watches the watchmen?” doesn’t just apply to HBO executives wondering if Damon Lindelof can make the graphic novel into a hit show; this week, it’s been particularly appropriate for those wondering about how reporters covering the current administration are conducting their business. Well, one reporter in particular. And it all starts with former Trump official Hope Hicks. Well, kind of.
Yes, Hicks is facing an “existential question” in whether or not to comply with a subpoena, according to the New York Times, despite the fact that it’s more of a legal obligation than an existential question, and also, there’s nothing existential about the matter anyway—something that the Times apparently realized, with the online version of the story changing “existential” to “crucial” after it was posted, in light of criticism like this:
Speaking of criticism, the story—and accompanying photo shoot—garnered more than a little directed towards its author, Maggie Haberman, on social media.
This, in turn, evolved into a broader critique of Haberman—
Plenty of Haberman’s fellow journalists were quick to jump in to defend her—
—but such defenses weren’t necessarily appreciated by those looking at the matter with a critical eye.
Others still pointed out that, while some of the criticism may have been overwrought, that didn’t mean it was wrong.
For her part, Haberman kept out of the fray, more or less. Aside from a television appearance where she talked about it, of course. (She bemoaned that the criticism “has gotten extremely personal,” adding, “That’s unfortunate.”)
The Takeaway: Journalists do love talking about themselves. (I write, as a journalist, talking about what journalists are talking about.) But are we looking in the wrong direction on this particular story?
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