| Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Jeffrey Toobin dedicates his latest book “to my fellow journalists,” and that’s apt — since “True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump” is a piece of exemplary explanatory journalism.
It’s a real-life legal thriller, a whodunit with global consequences.
How did President Trump and his allies outmaneuver Robert Mueller, the special counsel charged with reporting whether Russians meddled in the 2016 election and whether Trump abused his power or obstructed justice?
We know the end result: Mueller’s report detailed dozens of instances when Russian operatives interacted with Trump associates with the intent of swinging the 2016 election for Trump, but the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Meanwhile, President Trump was accused of pressuring Ukraine to dig up damaging information on 2020 opponent Joe Biden’s son — leading to Trump’s impeachment by the Democrat-controlled House and his acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate.
But what went on behind the scenes? How are these events linked?
Was Mueller playing by strict rules of conduct that no longer apply in a world swayed by tweets? (Trump sent 300 tweets related to Mueller and the investigation.)
As Toobin wrote: “According to the (Trump) Administration, Mueller and his team displayed an unseemly eagerness to uncover crimes that never existed. In fact, the opposite is true. Mueller had an abundance of legitimate targets to investigate, and his failures emerged from an excess of caution, not of zeal. Especially when it came to Trump, Mueller avoided confrontations that he should have welcomed. He never issued a grand-jury subpoena for the president’s testimony, and even though his office built a compelling case for Trump’s having committed obstruction of justice, Mueller came up with reasons not to say so in his report. In light of this, Trump shouldn’t be denouncing Mueller — he should be thanking him.”
Toobin, the author of eight books and a longtime CNN senior legal analyst and staff writer at The New Yorker, dissects the investigation — and how the experienced and respected Mueller was hampered by his own integrity.
Toobin will discuss “True Crimes and Misdemeanors” on Oct. 6 from 7 to 8 p.m., in a discussion moderated by fellow New York Times best-selling author Joe Klein, who wrote “Primary Colors.”
The talk is part of the Palm Beach Book Festival’s ongoing series with Florida Atlantic University, and the $10 ticket sales go to benefit the university’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.
We asked Toobin eight questions, which he answered via email.
You dedicate your book to journalists. What does it mean to be a journalist today?
Journalism has always been a business and a way to make a living. That’s what I do. But journalism is also an indispensable part of a functioning democracy. A system based on the consent of the governed requires people to have the information to make judgments about the kind of society they want. We supply that information, or at least do our best to do so.
WHO is a journalist?
This is a much harder question than it used to be. The conventional definitions still apply, and the people who receive paychecks from news organizations remain the heart of the profession. But there are lots more. Bloggers (when there used to be a lot of bloggers) are journalists, and perhaps the most important journalists in the country are people whose names few people know — the Facebook employees who curate the news feeds, which is where millions of people get their information. All in all, I am less concerned about the definitions of journalist than I am about the information that people receive. It’s a great challenge these days to make sure that information is reliable.
How important is it for you to support other journalists like Michael S. Schmidt (author of the new “Donald Trump V. The United States”) and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times, whose reporting you credit in your book?
I think the world of Michael and Maggie, who are superb journalists. But they are acclaimed journalists at a large and thriving institution. I am more concerned about the survival of the news business in less celebrated settings. I want the Hartford Courant and Cincinnati Enquirer to survive; the journalists who work there are the ones who are most endangered.
How hard was it for a straitlaced and fact-based person like Mueller to deal with Trump and his team, who seemed to be waging guerrilla warfare with the truth via social media?
That was certainly a problem for Mueller. He devoted his life to American institutions — the Marine Corps, the Justice Department, the FBI — and he had great faith in them. Trump has undermined institutions to an extent that I don’t think Mueller realized.
What was your key motivation in writing this book?
My motivation is always the same — to tell a story. Sure, I have political views, and that informs much of what I do. But above all, I want to create a narrative, and portray individuals, in ways that readers find compelling. In this story, too, I felt the issues were of enormous consequence, which raised the stakes in my view.
Did you at some point just look at the case and say: I’ve got to put this thing together in a way people can understand?’ How important is it for Americans to see the whole case, altogether?
This was an especially important motivation for writing this book. The Russia and Ukraine stories came to the public in disjointed, non-chronological fashion. I felt it was a single story, and it needed to be told that way. I also feel one of my strengths as a writer is to turn complicated facts into comprehensible and enjoyable stories. That was my goal here.
President Trump did not testify in the Mueller investigation, but he did submit written responses to some questions from the Mueller team. If Mueller had subpoenaed Trump to testify early in his investigation, do you believe the outcome would have been different?
Probably not. I can’t imagine any scenario where there would have been 67 votes in the Senate to remove Trump from office. But if Mueller had subpoenaed Trump, he would have done a better and more thorough investigation. That was my main point.
As you have written, Trump and his allies “muddled the public’s understanding” regarding Russian interference and potential obstruction of justice with Ukraine’s leader. How can “muddling” be avoided?
I don’t have a specific agenda in this way. I don’t view my job as telling people what they should think or what political side they should embrace. I just try to tell a compelling and accurate story and let people make up their own minds about what it means for their own views.
Why is a defense of journalism not an attack on Donald Trump? (This answer is from Toobin’s author’s note in the book.)
“Trump has used the epithets ‘fake news’ and ‘enemies of the people’ so often that they’ve become almost routine, part of the background hum of politics in the United States. But my purpose in saluting my colleagues is broader than simply standing up to Trump’s attacks. The work we do is indispensable in a free nation; that was true before Trump’s presidency and will be true after he is gone. Journalism matters not just because we speak truth to this particular president but because democracy will always require an informed electorate. Journalists, like everyone else, are imperfect; we make mistakes. But our country — and the world — is better off because of the work that we continue to do.”
Join Jeffrey Toobin’s “virtual conversation”
Best-selling author Jeffrey Toobin will discuss his latest book, “True Crimes and Misdemeanors: The Investigation of Donald Trump” as part of the Palm Beach Book Festival’s ongoing partnership with Florida Atlantic University. Joe Klein, author of “Primary Colors,” will moderate, and Lois Cahall, founder of the Palm Beach Book Festival, will introduce the authors.
When: Oct. 6, 7 to 8 p.m.
Buy books: Books are available online through FAU at bkstr.com/faustore and search for the title. (Books are also available at all online booksellers, but FAU benefits from books sold through its bookstore.)
Tickets: $10. Lifelong learning students pay $8, and FAU students are free. All proceeds benefit student scholarships and the Lifelong Learning Institute. Purchase at fauf.fau.edu/pbbf-toobin
Next “virtual conversation” is Oct. 19 with author Mitch Albom.
Credit: Source link