In the days following the release of Attorney General William Barr‘s summary of the Special Counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, reactions from the University community have been mixed. The Department of Justice has not made the full, over-300-page report authored by Robert Mueller available to the public. However, Barr’s summary did reveal that “while [Mueller’s] report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” and that Mueller found no evidence of a conspiracy by the Trump campaign to undermine the 2016 presidential election.
Robert Andrews, an undergraduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences who is President of the College Republicans, provided his point of view on the release in a written statement to WUVA News.
“We [at College Republicans] are pleased to hear that after two years of investigations, there is no evidence of collusion between the Russian government and the Donald Trump campaign,” Andrews wrote, “and, it is highly unlikely that President Trump attempted to obstruct justice. This is not for the sake of partisan gain, but rather for the implications it has for the United States and the robustness of our democracy. Second, we hope this teaches a lesson on drawing conclusions prior to the release and evaluation of evidence.”
Andrews also called on those who represented collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia as a foregone conclusion to apologize to the American people, naming Representative Adam Schiff and former CIA Director John Brennan.
“For months, we’ve listened to top officials…in the mainstream media disseminate a fallacious narrative that collusion took place between the Trump Campaign and Russia and that an indictment of the President was inevitable,” Andrews said. “Those who partook in such misleading efforts owe the American people an apology. Individuals should wait until all evidence is made available before drawing conclusions. It is clear that a through [sic] investigation took place as Special Counsel Mueller wielded the resources of eighteen attorneys, forty FBI agents, and implemented the issuance of over 2800 subpoenas. Further, we encourage everyone to read the full Mueller report when it is released by the Department of Justice. Moving forward, College Republicans hope our elected officials will get back to work addressing the important issues that affect everyday Americans.”
Kathryn Williams, Chair of Communications for the University Democrats, also encouraged consideration of the entire report and warned against jumping to premature conclusions.
“As it has just been revealed that the Mueller report is over three hundred pages long, we [at the University Democrats] believe it is very necessary for the report to be released,” Williams wrote. “Since there are three hundred pages of material, the four page summary released by Barr cannot possibly encompass all the information and the detailed investigation performed by Mueller. We completely agree with the majority of Democrats and their demand for the full release of the report.”
Students’ desires to see the entire 300-page report were mirrored in faculty responses, but some warned against the expectation that Mueller’s findings would lead to any increase in legal trouble for President Trump. The University of Virginia Center for Politics, led by Director Larry J. Sabato and Director of Communications Kyle Kondik, responded to Barr’s summary by releasing a special edition of their Crystal Ball online publication, which describes itself as a “nonpartisan political analysis and handicapping newsletter.”
“Following the conclusion of the Mueller probe, President Trump being forced from office or the ballot because of legal troubles is even less likely than before,” the edition reads. “That’s not to say Trump is guaranteed to be free and clear on any and all legal questions. Let’s not forget all those other investigations of Trump that are ongoing. He’s lived on the legal edge for decades. Something big could happen on this front between now and the  election…But our best guess is that any new findings, or new details from the actual Mueller report, would provide political fodder against the president, as opposed to legal fodder.”
In addition to his Crystal Ball commentary, Sabato also released statements on his public Twitter page. In one tweet, he wrote that Barr’s summary represented “a powerful reminder to Dems that 2020 isn’t likely to be delivered on a silver platter.” He also expressed concerns that the Russian government will “interpret this as a green light to interfere with the 2020 elections” as they did in 2016. Sabato therefore advised the Democratic Party not to “gamble” with their choice of nominee and to select a candidate with “the best chance of winning [the general election.]”
Meanwhile, scholars at the University’s Miller Center for Public Affairs are engaging in the national conversation.
“Mueller and his staff should consider dividing their report into two parts, one of which would provide the public an overall narrative of their findings about Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election,” University Professor of History Philip Zelikow wrote in The Washington Post. “The American people and the American government deserve those facts…Similarly, the report can set the context of the Trump campaign in 2016, and how it operated, that was relevant to the Russian intervention. Some of this may have spilled over into the presidential transition process as well, if not the operations of the administration itself.”
Zelikow’s colleague at The Miller Center, Assistant Professor of Presidential Studies Nicole Hemmer, also addressed the controversy in her own article for The Washington Post — titled “The Mueller Investigation Was No Failure.”
“Although the full report — unreleased — may not be as friendly to the Trump administration as Attorney General William P. Barr’s four-page summary, President Trump seems to have survived Mueller’s report,” Hemmer wrote. “We don’t know whether Trump will survive the many scandals of his administration; the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York is investigating Trump’s business dealings, among other matters…Mueller has demonstrated that Trump’s campaign was riddled with Russian contacts and criminality.”
Whether the Department of Justice will allow the public to evaluate all of Mueller’s findings for themselves remains to be seen. In the meantime, the University community will continue to assert their opinions on the president and his alleged ties to Russia. While some have viewed Barr’s summary as a victory and others a disappointment, all seem eager to know just how much the American political process has been affected by foreign interference — and whether the integrity of the upcoming 2020 election can be maintained.