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Issues & Insights

There Is No ‘CliffsNotes’ Mueller Report

If it weren’t for impatience, there would have never been a market for microwave ovens, keyless entry systems, or Egg McMuffins. But while love of brevity may drive speed and efficiency in the economy, it can and does also promote ignorance, and even injustice.

Imagine what those living behind the Iron Curtain would have said about Americans complaining of not wanting to bother slogging through the 448 pages of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on interference in the 2016 presidential election. Russians under communism would have crashed the Internet had the three lengthy volumes of Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago been available online during the Cold War. And they wouldn’t have asked for someone to tell them in the time it takes to finish the morning coffee what the pivotal literary work “really means.”

The availability of the full Mueller report to the public, minus grand jury materials — a release not required since the independent counsel statute was allowed to expire in reaction to Bill Clinton’s impeachment — is a reminder of how free we are in the United States of America. Yes, we could be freer, but do we even deserve the liberties we enjoy when Associated Press reporters find citizens complaining that Mueller’s nearly-two-years-in-the-making, $25 million-plus written findings are “legalese” — oh, and where can I find the “CliffsNotes version”?

It hearkens back to James Joyce’s supposed reply to the friend who complained how difficult Ulysses was to read: “It took me seven years to write it. It should take you seven years to read it.”

Experts To Tell You What To Think

Pennsylvania health counselor Melissa Garcia, a 29-year-old independent who voted for Hillary Clinton, told the AP she wants Mueller “to sum it up because he knows it the best. I’d want the shorthand version but the most important details.”

Aluminum company employee Becky McBreen, a 58-year-old Republican who voted for Trump, also from Pennsylvania, would ask Mueller if he “in your heart of hearts, truly think that Trump colluded with Russia to sabotage Hillary?” And 52-year-old Miami Beach Democrat Adam Singer eagerly wants the special counsel to “get up publicly on television and give his take on the report” because “I don’t believe we have been told the whole story,” he told AP.

It’s a good thing there wasn’t TV in the 16th century, or Shakespeare would have had to “get up publicly” and “give his take” on Hamlet, to satisfy some in the audience convinced they hadn’t been given the whole story.

Considering the state of higher education, there may well be English literature professors who think their students should rely on Cliff Notes versions of Shakespeare plays, when what they really need is the opposite — the invaluable background information found in the heavily-annotated Arden editions of the Bard’s works (though political correctness is seeping into some of Arden’s latest series).

A free people who seek experts to tell them what to think won’t be free for long. In the age of personal computing and more bandwidth than we know what to do with, it has never been so easy to access voluminous government documents explaining what our rulers are doing. We should want more of what Mueller spent 22 months investigating – like the details of what the FBI told the FISA Court to get permission to spy on Americans – not less. Especially when less comes in the form of soundbite-sized answers to politicized questions from senators and congressmen seeking a Watergate-without-a-crime. And all because they have no policy ideas with which to prevent the re-election of a President presiding over a booming economy.

A Shameless Stunt

Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) was also interviewed by the AP, and she said of Mueller, “we need him to testify” because “he owes it to us.” Watergate prosecutor Richard Ben-Veniste told the wire service Mueller “probably could have been clearer.” And hundreds of ex-federal prosecutors signed a far-from-objective letter this month claiming Mueller really did find obstruction of justice, even though he didn’t say he did — a shameless stunt each of those former government lawyers would have raised holy hell about if they had been on the receiving end of a fellow prosecutor’s letter critiquing the results of one of their own probes.

A prosecutor’s job is to indict or quietly go home, not reflect on what he considers may have been near-crimes. If a warranted police search of your home discovered nothing incriminating, the District Attorney has no license to tell the world the contents of your bedroom bureau because he finds it interesting.

Giving a congressional committee, and the TV cameras, the quick Cliff Notes version of the nuanced results of a long, complex federal investigation would be as much a travesty as distilling Moby Dick down to something tweetable, like “a sailor hunts a big whale that bit off his leg.”

Pandering to the lowest common denominator is as destructive to the truth in criminal justice and in voters’ assessment of elected officials as it is in the academic disciplines. Unfortunately, such pandering is found in all those realms in a country whose impatience, so often an economic virtue, is exploited by the powerful.


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Thomas McArdle

Tom McArdle @MacArdghail, longtime Senior Writer for Investor's Business Daily, was a White House Speechwriter for President George W. Bush, National Political Reporter for Washington political columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, Managing Editor of Human Events, and has worked as a writer for CNN and the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights. His work has appeared in National Review, the American Spectator, The Hill, the Washington Examiner, Newsmax, and the National Catholic Register. He has appeared on Fox News and numerous talk radio programs. He is a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, M. Stanton Evans' National Journalism Center in Washington, Cardinal Hayes High School in the Bronx, and at 17 was one of Curtis Sliwa's original "Magnificent 13" Guardian Angels.

1 comment

  • Wonderful insight, Tom! I hadn’t considered that the push for a Mueller interview was simply to get the CliffsNotes version. As one of the original few 3% who read the entire report the first weekend, I confess I only was motivated to do so once I realized that the competing summary narratives and cherry-picking of paragraphs would not give me what I sought–some semblance of the truth, as least according to Mueller. Much of it is digestible for someone with a high school education, and certainly worth the quick free download to at least scan the report for yourself.

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