Good Friday Morning! The Mueller report has finally arrived — and you can read it yourself here if you haven’t seen a full version yet (the searchable version here). I’ll dig more into that report below along with some preliminary thoughts. I say initial because it’s long and there’s no way to read it all in preparation for this or the column I’ve got going up for CI. I also wanted to offer a few thoughts on the tragic fire at Notre Dame, links to follow.
Before that, I wanted to highlight two quick things that got buried this week between the Mueller report and the Notre Dame fire. Both are stories out of the New York Times.
First up: “Face It: You (Probably) Got a Tax Cut: Studies consistently find that the 2017 law cut taxes for most Americans. Most of them don’t buy it.” The Times ran this piece telling the left that their misinformation campaign on the tax law was wrong — they got a tax cut, and they deny reality. The response from the left to seeing this piece in the NYT resulted in a firestorm. The contentious — but true — line from the piece: “To a large degree, the gap between perception and reality on the tax cuts appears to flow from a sustained — and misleading — effort by liberal opponents of the law to brand it as a broad middle-class tax increase.” Those reporters said their email inbox got trashed for the rest of the week.
The second story, “‘Stop Sanders’ Democrats Are Agonizing Over His Momentum: Some members of the Democratic establishment, resentful over 2016 and worried about a divided 2020 primary, are beginning to ask how to thwart Senator Bernie Sanders.” Last week I mentioned that Bernie Sanders was getting attacked by the Center for American Progress, a far left group. This NYT piece profiles the people surrounding that side of the party, mostly Clinton supporters. The Center for American Progress, the most Clinton-esque segment especially hates Sanders, and the NYT profile of their leader, Neera Tanden, is brutal. One of my main predictions after the 2016 election was that the Democrats would boil over into a Civil War, and we’re seeing more of those cracks now.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
New Zealand’s quick ban on “assault weapons” is another chilling reminder of why we need a written constitution.
The case law on what constitutes incitement is incredibly narrow. The
The fire at Notre Dame is out — but the church is still burning
The headline I went with for this section describes roughly how I feel after watching one of the most significant symbols of Christendom burn. French firefighters thankfully saved a good portion of the cathedral, and they deserve lifetime pensions for their work, and the relics and artifacts got saved as well.
It was indeed a tragic event, one that made nearly everyone I know to tear up. It had me choked up. Watching an 850-year-old cathedral burn is unsettling and disconcerting. Notre Dame stood as a symbol of the Catholic Church in French society and has stood for so long it is a reminder of the enduring power and presence of the Christian faith in the western tradition.
I admit, I watched some of the ensuing statements people made with some bewilderment. I don’t understand why anyone feels the need to say, “Buildings don’t matter,” or “God isn’t kept in buildings.” Yes — these are theologically accurate statements. God is not contained in buildings, nor is He only worshipped in them. Of course, buildings don’t matter — until they do.
Notre Dame stood as a cathedral where Christians prayed and worshiped for 850 years. The church and land are soaked with centuries of prayers, worship, and the presence of God. It’s not just a building — it’s one of THE buildings.
Throughout the 20th century, there was a move in architecture to move beyond buildings as a statement of classical art and into more utility and functionality. Think of it as American pragmatism and Soviet starkness taking over the world. In the past, buildings once represented part of a religion or nation’s culture, history, and personality. In an age of illiteracy, the statues, stained glass, and other features of a building helped teach a unified faith to everyone.
But with the education system, the need for such buildings seemed to wane, and pragmatism took over. There’s also been a movement in the protestant movement in the last 20-30 years to move away from traditional church buildings, and use anything else from schools, theaters, metal barns, and more.
These changes are all well and fine, but they do undercut the “it’s only a building” argument. In my experience with the church, the people who are happily informing everyone “it’s just a building,” glory themselves in the fact that they don’t have an audacious building like Notre Dame. They have more simple aesthetics and wouldn’t dare “waste all the money in the world” restoring Notre Dame.
Jesus told a parable relating to this, in Luke 18:
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’
14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
The “just a building” crowd is no different than the Pharisee here, they say, “Thank God, I’m not like those French Catholics wasting money on a building — we just have simple buildings that meet our needs.” There’s still a pride present that undercuts any real righteousness.
That argument gets undercut even more when you realize the state of the modern church. The fires at Notre Dame got put out, but the church as a whole is still on fire — Catholic and Protestant alike. The Catholic Church’s sex abuse scandal threatens to bring every single state in the United States into a lawsuit against the Church for hiding its sin. Protestants aren’t far away, and the Southern Baptists are in the same boat.
And that’s looking only at that one issue. The church has many other problems it refuses to deal with in any way. While Notre Dame was burning, people kept asking, where are the firefighters? The same question can get asked about the church as a whole, where are the firefighters?
Notre Dame is a monument and cathedral that represents the heights of beauty, artistry, and story Christianity can tell about its creator — metal buildings don’t do that. There’s a reason people go to places like Notre Dame, the Vatican, the wailing wall in Israel, and other similar journeys — these places hold history, power, and meaning. You can’t say that about most churches today, that they impact their communities and states in the same manner. Nor do they stand as messages to the world of the beliefs and faith of our ancestors.
When you read the wisdom literature in the Bible or the Psalms, they often point to nature as a reminder of God the Creator. Cathedrals like Notre Dame are the same thing, they lead, like nature to the ultimate Creator.
The last thing I’d note is that past generations understood the point of showcasing through art, architecture, and monuments the beauty of God and the scriptures. We’ve lost some of that because you’d be hard pressed to find similar things in modern Protestantism. Our art and monuments pale in comparison to our ancient ancestors, as a recent essay at the Imaginative Conservative noted:
The great Catholic poet Gerard Manley Hopkins tells us that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God.” This is so wonderfully true that, if we have eyes opened in humility, we can see God’s grandeur shining forth in all that is truly beautiful in Creation. We see it in the multifarious shades of green, shining forth in multifoliate splendor from forests of trees washed with the light of the sun. We can see it in clouds, careering across the sky in shapeshifting suggestiveness, splendid in shades of white and grey, punctuated with the Marian blue of the heavens beyond. We see it in all God’s creatures, great and small. And yet we also see it in the creative gifts of that special creature, called Man, who, made in God’s creative image, shines forth the grandeur of God in the fruits of his own creative gifts.
J.R.R. Tolkien wrote that “we make… by the law in which we’re made.” Being made by a Maker God, we make as we are made, with the creative gifts that are the image of God in us. The imagination is the image-ination: God’s imaginative image in his imaginative creatures. The true artist is aware that he is the recipient of this divine gift and is aware, therefore, that he has a responsibility to use the gift in a spirit of gratitude and humility in accordance with the will of the God who gave it to him. True art is therefore the giving back to the giver of the gift the fruits of the gift given.
Part of putting out the fire in the church should be reinstating the importance of bringing out the real beauty in the arts. I hope and pray that restoring Notre Dame will help lead to a resurgence on this front. Along with cleaning house on all the church’s other problems.
The Mueller Report — At Long Last
I no longer have to say: wait for the Mueller report, because it’s finally here! The DOJ version is located here. The Bulwark created a searchable version of the PDF you can access here. Bulwark’s version will load faster if that matters.
I always recommend reading these reports yourself, instead of reading media versions. Everyone cherrypicks what they think is necessary out of these reports. I tend to focus on the legal discussion and summaries before jumping into each fact section. Others do the exact opposite.
It is split into two volumes. Pages 1 – 207 deal with the “Russian collusion” part of the investigation, pages 208 – 448 deal with the obstruction question.
For my CI column, I noted that the main thing to note throughout Volume I is the lack of mens rea. In criminal law, you generally need two things: mens rea and actus rea. Actus rea refers to the action taken. Mens rea refers to the intent behind the action. You’re usually looking for someone purposefully, knowingly, recklessly, or negligently committing an act to get a crime.
For instance, when you get into the discussion of why Mueller charged or didn’t charge people, he makes the following note on the Russian Active Measures campaign (Russia’s active effort at impacting the election through propaganda and misinformation):
Although members of the IRA had contact with individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign, the indictment does not charge any Trump Campaign official or any other U.S. person with participating in the conspiracy. That is because the investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. person who coordinated or communicated with the IRA knew that he or she was speaking with Russian nationals engaged in the criminal conspiracy. The Office therefore determined that such persons did not have the knowledge or criminal purpose required to charge them in the conspiracy to defraud the United States (Count One) or in the separate count alleging a wire- and bank-fraud conspiracy involving the IRA and two individual Rus sian nationals (Count Two). [pg 182 of the pdf] [emphasis mine]
In other words: Russia was actively influencing the election, they had contacts on the Trump campaign, but there’s no mens rea or intent. Without intent, there’s no crime — this is true of any criminal proceeding involving an intent element.
The issue of intent comes up again when you move down to the section where the Russian government had active contacts with the Trump campaign and tried to help:
As explained in Section IV above, the Office’s investigation uncovered evidence of numerous links (i.e., contacts) between Trump Campaign officials and individuals having or claiming to have ties to the Russian government. The Office evaluated the contacts under several sets of federal laws, including conspiracy laws and statutes governing foreign agents who operate in the United States. After considering the available evidence, the Office did not pursue charges under these statutes against any of the individuals discussed in Section IV above-with the exception of FARA charges against Paul Manafort and Richard Gates based on their activities on behalf of Ukraine.
One of the interactions between the Trump Campaign and Russian -affiliated individuals- the June 9, 2016 meeting between high-ranking campaign officials and Russians promising derogatory information on Hillary Clinton-implicates an additional body of law: campaign -finance statutes. Schemes involving the solicitation or receipt of assistance from foreign sources raise difficult statutory and constitutional questions. As explained below, the Office evaluated those questions in connection with the June 9 meeting [REDACTION]. The Office ultimately concluded that, even if the principal legal questions were resolved favorably to the government, a prosecution would encounter difficulties proving that Campaign officials or individuals connected to the Campaign willfully violated the law. [pg 188 of the PDF] [emphasis mine]
Note the word “willfully.” It’s alluding to the lack of intent. And this makes sense when you think about it because this entire administration is incapable of conspiring, coordinating, or collaborating with itself — much less a foreign power in the middle of an election.
If you can’t prove intent, there is no crime.
For all the time spent on the collusion narrative in the media, Mueller put a ton of nails in that coffin. We can definitively say the collusion narrative is dead, and there is no bringing it back. Are there some untoward actions taken by the Trump administration in this regard? Sure — and I hope they never do it again. But there’s no evidence of a crime.
Obstruction of justice
If collusion is dead, that means the only other option on the table is obstruction of justice. The big question here, and the area where Mueller spent a lot of time discussing it is the constitutional question: Can the President get charged with obstruction of justice for using powers granted to him in the US Constitution?
Andy McCarthy over at National Review wrote a piece for the NYPost blasting Mueller for not reaching a prosecutorial decision on obstruction of justice. I disagree with him, and I don’t think it was wrong for Mueller to punt this question. Frankly, the entire DOJ is in a lousy place to rule on the subject of obstruction of justice. Mueller didn’t punt because he didn’t want to answer the question — he punted because it’s not his role to determine this question, that’s for Congress. Mueller notes this very point:
As for constitutional defenses arising from the President’s status as the head of the Executive Branch, we recognized that the Department of Justice and the courts have not definitively resolved these issues. We therefore examined those issues through the framework established by Supreme Court precedent governing separation-of-powers issues. The Department of Justice and the President’s personal counsel have recognized that the President is subject to statutes that prohibit obstruction of justice by bribing a witness or suborning perjury because that conduct does not implicate his constitutional authority. With respect to whether the President can’t be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.
Under applicable Supreme Court precedent, the Constitution does not categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice through the use of his Article II powers. The separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those of courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source. We also concluded that any inroad on presidential authority that would occur from prohibiting corrupt acts does not undermine the President’s ability to fulfill his constitutional mission. … Finally, we concluded that in the rare case in which a criminal investigation of the President ‘s conduct is justified, inquiries to determine whether the President acted for a corrupt motive should not impermissibly chill his performance of his constitutionally assigned duties. The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President ‘s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law. [pg 220 of the pdf] [emphasis mine]
And yes — I’m well aware Mueller’s team argues they had the power to investigate and potentially prosecute obstruction against Trump. But when you take everything together with that Mueller’s team did: laying out evidence on both sides of the obstruction issue, refusing to take a side, and focusing in on Congress’s role in the conclusions, I think it’s pretty clear that Mueller’s team didn’t believe they’d win the constitutional argument.
Some commentators are saying Mueller set up Congress to go after an impeachment. That’s potentially true, but I doubt it. I think on obstruction, Mueller’s team punted because they believed this was Congress’s job and not a special prosecutor.
Under the old Independent Prosecutor statutes used by Ken Starr, those prosecutors existed in a position almost above the President (an unconstitutional creation in my opinion). They had the power to indict a sitting President because their powers were so much broader. Mueller was a special prosecutor in the DOJ — meaning his ultimate boss was the President, which means there’s a weird situation where the Executive branch boss is telling one of its underlings to investigate their boss.
It just doesn’t make any sense. The “collusion” investigation made sense because it involved defined criminal wrongdoing. Obstruction, while also illegal, affects the President’s constitutional powers. Checking that belongs to Congress, not subsidiary agency run by the President. Put another way; the Executive Branch can’t be expected to check itself against abuses.
I don’t expect anything from Democrats. The extreme idiot wing of the party, run by AOC, Tlaib, and Omar, will push for impeachment. Steny Hoyer, the second-ranked Democrat in the House, sings a different tune: “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point.” And if he’s saying that, then so is Pelosi and all other Democratic leadership. Democrats do not want an impeachment fight.
The more the media and the base push for it though, it’ll help Trump. I wrote at the beginning of the year that impeachment could be a wedge issue that sparks a civil war fight in the party, and opens a lane in the Presidential primaries. Keep an eye on that as the attacks ramp up in the primaries throughout the summer.
Links of the week
How Bibi Did It: The West’s most successful politician scores again – Seth Mandel, Commentary Magazine
Europe’s Alternative to Medicare for All: Swiss and Dutch private insurance provides better coverage than Canada’s single-payer system. – Regina E. Herzlinger and Bacchus Barua, The Wall Street Journal
Mark Zuckerberg leveraged Facebook user data to fight rivals and help friends, leaked documents show – Olivia Solon and Cyrus Farivar, NBC News
Pelosi: In Ocasio-Cortez’s District, ‘Glass of Water Would Win With a D Next to Its Name’: Speaker tells the left to stop talking about single-payer, Green New Deal until they’ve won back the White House – Paul Crookston, The Washington Free Beacon
Only by returning to the Faith can we truly rebuild Notre Dame: The kind of people who could rebuild Notre Dame are also the kind of people who could rebuild our civilization – C C Pecknold, The Catholic Herald
The Notre Dame Fire and the Future of History – Adam Rodgers, Wired
 The Cathedral and the Cube: Reflections on European Morale: To understand the continent’s political incapacity, it helps to look beyond politics. – George Weigel, Commentary Magazine
Ilhan Omar, Con Artist: She’s got a feel for her dupes. – Abe Greenwald, Commentary Magazine
NARAL President Says Asking about Abortion Is ‘Disinformation’ – Alexandra DeSanctis, National Review
Measles cases soar to the second-highest level in 25 years – Ashley Welch, CBS News
Measles Cases Skyrocket 43% as Anti-Vaxxers Head to Court: The disease has now been reported in 20 states. – Tanya Basu, The Daily Beast
Stop shunning anti-vaxxers just for bringing disease into the herd: Vaccines are violence – Bridget Phetasy, The American Spectator
Scientists Reawaken Cells From a 28,000-Year-Old Mammoth: Yuka the woolly mammoth died a long time ago, but scientists gave her cells a short second life in mouse egg cells. – Becky Ferreira, Motherboard
The US Has Officially Started Using CRISPR on Humans – Kristin Houser, Futurism
CRISPR Gene Editing Is Coming for the Womb: When an unborn baby is diagnosed with a life-threatening defect, it can be devastating. So some scientists hope to treat the fetus in the uterus, using gene editing. – Megan Molteni, Wired
Venture Capital Is Putting Its Money Into Astrology – Erin Griffith, The New York Times
Trump Is Hell-Bent on ‘Owning the Libs’ – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
What Does Rareness Have to Do With It? – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
What Happens When We Don’t Talk About Virtue? – Andreas Kinneging, The Imaginative Conservative
Young People Are Canaries in the Mine – Matthew D’Antuono, The Imaginative Conservative
The Nationalists at the Constitutional Convention – Nathan Coleman, The Imaginative Conservative
The Division of Labor Is the Meaning of Life – Kevin D. Williamson, National Review
The Truth About Dentistry: It’s much less scientific—and more prone to gratuitous procedures—than you may think. – Ferris Jabr, The Atlantic
Selfie Deaths Are an Epidemic: A recent report found that 259 people died between 2011 and 2017 while stepping in front of the camera in often dangerous destinations. Our writer went deep on the psychology of selfies to figure out what’s behind our obsession with capturing extreme risk-taking. – Katheryn Miles, Outside Online
15 Months of Fresh Hell Inside Facebook: Scandals. Backstabbing. Resignations. Record profits. Time Bombs. In early 2018, Mark Zuckerberg set out to fix Facebook. Here’s how that turned out. – Nicholas Thompson and Fred Vogelstein, Wired
Letter from California: Lost at Sea – Poverty and paradise at the edge of America – Joe Kloc, Harpers Magazine
Satire piece of the week
ATLANTA, GA—Anchors at CNN headquarters have made a bold statement of unwavering faith after the Mueller Report revealed no actual evidence that Trump colluded with Russia. “We believe in collusion with all our hearts and will never let the world’s teachings get in the way of that,” said Jim Acosta while mumbling mantras quietly in a room misty with burning incense.
“If God allowed this report to be written in the manner that it was, He did so to test our unshakable faith in what we know to be true,” said Anderson Cooper.
“We believe in the one true Russian collusion, the one that was spoken into truth and made real far before any evidence was brought before this dark world,” added Natalie Allen.
Thanks for reading!