Mueller Speaks! He sounds different than I thought he would.
Mueller just made it crystal clear: Only Congress can hold Trump accountable
By Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent, Washington Post
May 29, 2019
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III just opened his mouth in public for the first time in years, and though what he said was careful, precise, and restrained, it nonetheless amounted to a new statement, one that underscored a stark reality:
Members of Congress are the only ones with the power to hold President Trump accountable for his efforts to obstruct justice.
In his roundabout way, Mueller made clear that all the statements that he supposedly found “no obstruction” and his investigation exonerated the president are simply false. Instead, he emphasized a few points.
First, Mueller underlined that under Justice Department policy he was forbidden from indicting President Trump and that this is why he did not make a final judgment about whether to bring criminal charges. “Charging the president with a crime,” Mueller said, was “not an option we could consider.”
Second, Mueller underscored that if he had found that Trump was innocent, he would have proclaimed that to be the case. “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said.
Third, the criminal justice system can’t hold a sitting president accountable for his conduct, so someone else has to step up and do it. “The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said.
“The Special Counsel is making a very powerful statement on his last day of work,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told us. “And members of Congress are going to be taking it to heart over the next couple of days.”
“We have a responsibility to act when the president of the United States engages in criminal conduct,” Raskin continued. “So to my mind, we need to launch an impeachment inquiry to find out what exactly happened and what our response should be.”
Raskin, a constitutional law professor, also said Mueller’s statement today “increases the pressure on the House of Representatives to act forcefully against the president’s lawlessness.”
Asked directly whether this would increase the pressure to launch an impeachment inquiry in particular, Raskin said a majority of members of the Judiciary Committee — which would carry out an inquiry — have already expressed an active interest in launching one, adding: “The sentiment is growing.”
“I feel an impeachment inquiry is indicated,” Raskin said. “Most members are now distinguishing between an impeachment inquiry, which is the beginning of an investigation into high crimes and misdemeanors, and impeachment articles.”
Mueller “made it clear that the only reason the president wasn’t indicted was because it was against DOJ policy,” Raskin said, and that “he clearly believes it is up to Congress to act.”
To be clear, in key ways what Mueller said today is also what he wrote in his report. But views of that report have been shaped by a propaganda effort spearheaded by the president and Attorney General William P. Barr, and carried out with the enthusiastic support of friendly media outlets, an effort meant to deceive the public into believing that Mueller exonerated Trump of any wrongdoing.
In that context, Mueller’s decision to publicly underscore the key points above is plainly a reset of the conversation.
Mueller also offered a somewhat more pointed emphasis in several ways. First, he flatly declared that the reason the obstruction question is important is because it could have frustrated an investigation designed to get to the bottom of an attack on our political system, irrespective of any “collusion” question. Taken alongside Mueller’s confirmation that Trump was not exonerated of obstruction, that adds up to a remarkable indictment of Trump’s overall conduct.
Mueller also went out of his way to emphasize that he found “insufficient evidence” to bring a criminal charge of conspiracy with Russia, which is not at all the same as concluding that “no collusion” occurred. Mueller’s report did not conclude that at all, yet Trump traffics in the “no collusion” lie constantly, and Barr’s presentation of Mueller’s findings dishonestly submerged their seriousness on this front.
“Special Counsel Mueller basically returned us to the starting point,” Raskin said. “This is where the conversation should have been two months ago, before Attorney General Barr misled the nation. The air is clear now. We have the opportunity to act on the Special Counsel’s findings.”
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statement today was once again very noncommittal, which suggests how badly she wants to avoid an impeachment inquiry. By contrast, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the one Republican who allows that Mueller found impeachable offenses, was far more forceful.
Standing Where Barr Cleared Trump on Obstruction, Mueller Makes a Different Case
By Mark Mazzetti and Charlie Savage, The New York Times
May 29, 2019
Robert S. Mueller III delivered a starkly different presentation on Wednesday from the same lectern, saying that charging a sitting president was never an option, no matter the evidence. Instead, his investigators asked another question: Could they clear the president?
On potential obstruction of justice, the answer was no.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime,” Mr. Mueller said, “we would have said so.”
The power of Mr. Mueller’s brief appearance came from his attempts to cut through a lengthy and dense report to give his own voice and imprimatur to a damning set of findings both about Mr. Trump and the Russian sabotage campaign. His carefully chosen phrases stood in sharp contrast to Mr. Barr’s portrayal of the investigation as vindicating Mr. Trump from accusations of the crime of obstruction.
After weeks when Mr. Barr had served as the public face of the Mueller report, Mr. Mueller reclaimed the document as his own with his first, and perhaps last, public statement about the investigation since being appointed special counsel two years ago. He made clear that it was for others to decide whether to accuse Mr. Trump of breaking the law — perhaps members of Congress, perhaps future prosecutors. Mr. Mueller’s delivery was sometimes halting, but his message was firm.
Mr. Barr, at a news conference shortly before he released the Mueller report last month, repeatedly emphasized that the special counsel had not established “collusion” between the Trump campaign and Russia. Mr. Mueller opened with a sobering account focused on Russia’s “concerted attack on our political system” that was meant to “interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.”
While he also said that the evidence did not add up to a conspiracy, his emphasis, unlike Mr. Barr’s, was on the “paramount importance” of figuring out what Russia had done — an argument that built into an implicit censure of Mr. Trump’s efforts to undermine and impede the investigation.
“When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators,” Mr. Mueller said, “it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
But in a crucial respect, Mr. Mueller remained as coy as he was in the report. He refused to unambiguously state what he and his team thought should be done with their findings, leaving his intentions and conclusions open to interpretation.
For instance, he listed his reasons for stopping short of deciding whether to accuse Mr. Trump of the crime of obstruction: namely, that the Justice Department has forbidden charging a sitting president with a crime, and it would be unfair to accuse someone of wrongdoing without giving them the opportunity to clear their name at trial.
But he offered only hints about what he thought should happen instead, emphasizing that a sitting president can still be investigated “because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available.”
“Among other things,” Mr. Mueller said, “that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now.”
His use of the pregnant phrase “among other things” was a deflection. It implied — but left unsaid — the far more important thing for which the Justice Department can use all that preserved evidence: In the future, after Mr. Trump leaves office, other prosecutors could decide then whether to charge the former president with a crime.
Similarly, Mr. Mueller noted that the Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinion that forbids indicting a sitting president “says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.” Yet he stopped short of saying the explosive word he was clearly referring to: impeachment.
Mr. Mueller is “being as direct as he can be” about the possibility that Mr. Trump committed a crime and that Congress should act, said Glenn Kirschner, who worked with Mr. Mueller as a homicide prosecutor.
“Mueller is the king of circumspection, and that’s a blessing and a curse because the American people are not good with circumspection,” Mr. Kirschner said.
Mr. Mueller’s aversion to delivering quotable sound bites denied the president’s critics the chance to use his words as partisan ammunition in the months ahead, preserving his above-the-fray credibility and the integrity of his findings. But it came at the cost of risking that the public may fail to fully grasp his implications — confusion that Mr. Trump and his allies exploited almost immediately.
Indeed, the ambiguity in Mr. Mueller’s report left an opening for Mr. Barr to exploit, jumping in to claim that the special counsel had left the decision to him, as attorney general, about whether to accuse Mr. Trump of committing crimes.
Mr. Barr declared that “the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.” In doing so, he ignored that the report lays out several episodes in which Mr. Trump took actions that appeared to meet all three criteria for the crime of obstruction based on the special counsel’s analysis of them.
In the weeks after he delivered his report, Mr. Barr took jabs at both Mr. Mueller and his team. He described Mr. Mueller’s decision not to make a definitive judgment on the obstruction of justice issue as inscrutable. He pointedly declined to defend the special counsel against charges from Republicans that Mr. Mueller had been engaged in a witch hunt. He described a letter Mr. Mueller had written in the days after the delivery of the report as “snitty,” and said it was likely written by a member of his team.
Democratic dithering is unacceptable! Unindicted Co-conspirator Bottomless Pinocchio is a criminal and a traitor! Impeachment is a Constitutional necessity, not an option.