John Oliver: 'Incompetence' and 'Obedience' Saved Trump - Rolling Stone
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John Oliver’s Take on Mueller Report: ‘Incompetence and Obedience’ Saved Trump

‘Last Week Tonight’ host criticizes Attorney General William Barr for “[downplaying]” report’s contents in letter to Congress, subsequent press conference

John Oliver unpacked the most crucial details of the long-awaited Mueller report on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, continuing the saga he once-dubbed “Stupid Watergate.” He focused the segment on “two main factors that may have saved” President Trump: “incompetence when it comes to conspiracy with Russia and disobedience when it comes to obstruction of justice.”

While Robert Mueller’s team determined that the Trump campaign did not conspire with the Russian government to interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential election, they were less specific on the obstruction charge, writing, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” The report describes 10 episodes of potential obstruction, noting, “If we had confidence … that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

Oliver called that assessment “a pretty conspicuous non-exoneration” that conflicts with Trump’s view of “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION.”

“If you were interviewing a job applicant and they told you, ‘Just so you know: I wasn’t found guilty of fucking my neighbor’s mailboxes, but I also specifically wasn’t found innocent, you wouldn’t necessarily rule them out, but you’d definitely think twice about hiring them,'” the comedian cracked.

After highlighting some of the report’s “incredible” details (like Trump finding out about the investigation, slumping back in his chair and uttering, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”), Oliver examined the “incompetence” related to conspiracy — including the actions of Michael Cohen. The former Trump attorney was “in contact with Russians throughout the campaign,” mostly concerning Trump’s aim to build a tower in Moscow — and his many blunders included using a misspelled email address for Vladimir Putin’s press spokesman Dimitri Peskova and confusing the identity of Dmitry Klokov, a former press secretary to Russia’s energy minister.

An ex-wife of Klokov contacted Ivanka Trump, offering his “assistance to the Trump campaign.” She forwarded the email to Cohen, who then Googled Klokov’s name and determined he was a former Olympic weightlifter by the same name. The real Klokov apparently continued to reach out in attempts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin — messages that Cohen ignored. Even during his Mueller interviews, the report notes, “Cohen still appeared to believe that the Klokov he spoke with was that Olympian.”

“The report found multiple instances where people tied to the Russian government offered Trump’s campaign assistance, and ‘in some instances the campaign was receptive,'” Oliver noted. “But the thing that seemed to stop closer coordination from happening was often cartoonish levels of disorganization and incompetence — on top of which, there were times when the Trump team’s ignorance of basic legal concepts seems to have actively helped shield them criminal liability, most notably when it came to the infamous Trump Tower meeting between featuring Don Jr., Jared [Kushner], Paul Manafort and a Russian offering more dirt.”

Moving to the obstruction issue, Oliver observed, “Despite ample evidence that he tried to do it, everyone around him was too disobedient to listen” — a fact he deemed both “reassuring and terrifying.” Trump ordered at least 10 current and former administration officials or associates — including former FBI director James Comey and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions — to do things that might constitute obstruction, but they didn’t listen.

One such episode involved Trump calling former White House counsel Don McGahn and directing him to have Mueller removed. McGahn refused, but Trump kept asking, until the point where McGahn prepared to resign, citing the President’s demands to have him “do crazy shit.”

“Preparing to quit because you’re being asked to do ‘crazy shit’ isn’t what you expect from the White House counsel,” Oliver said. “It’s what you expect from Nicolas Cage’s personal assistant.”

Oliver also criticized Trump’s current Attorney General, William Barr, for “[downplaying the report’s] contents in his letter summarizing it to Congress” and holding a “preemptive press conference to spin the report’s contents, repeating Trump’s favorite phrase, ‘no collusion,’ and making excuses for the president.”

During the press conference, Barr claimed that “The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation” and that “the president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”

“But that is, at best, a gross mischaracterization of what the report actually said,” Oliver argued. “Because ‘full cooperation’ would have involved sitting down for an interview, which Trump did not do. And Mueller not only found Trump’s answers inadequate, but he also wrote that he ‘engaged in efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation and prevent the disclosure of evidence to it’ … including through public and private contacts with potential witnesses.”

Americans don’t know the full story of the Mueller investigation, given the numerous redactions from the report and its references to investigations handed off to other prosecutors. Much of what we do know, Oliver noted, is disturbing — though it’s important to face the truth head-on.

“Russia interfered in our election and made efforts to help Trump win, and while his campaign did not provably cooperate with Russia, they seemed eager to accept their help in a way that no one should be comfortable with,” he said. “Also, Trump may have obstructed justice — and if he didn’t, it might only be because people who work for him ignored his orders. And on top of all of this, the Attorney General, the nation’s top law enforcement official, has proven himself to be a dishonest hack. And I’m not saying that any of that is good news. But it is definitely good that we know about it.”


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