Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:29 pm

Mueller to U.S. House: Saddle the hell up

Robert Mueller all but begs Congress to impeach Donald Trump and implicitly tears a deserving news media a big new orifice in the process.

Outgoing special counsel Robert Mueller made several critical points today in his roughly eight-minute statement at the Department of Justice.

First (and I’m not necessarily going in chronological order here), he emphasized at both the beginning and the end of his statement that the evidence is crystal clear that Russian military intelligence sought to interfere with the 2016 presidential election for the benefit of Donald Trump and that they are continuing to try to interfere with U.S. elections even today.

Second, he emphasized that the Mueller report speaks for itself, which was a polite way of saying that if the people whose jobs it was to tell us what was in the report had done their jobs and read the damned report, we wouldn’t be nearly so confused about the way forward and we wouldn’t have wasted the past two months. Instead, he implicitly pointed out, journalists covered what people (i.e., Attorney General William Barr) SAID about the report, rather than what the report itself said, to the detriment of the American public. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer put it, “Mueller’s statement is an indictment of a press that focused more on what people had to say about the report than what the report said, because the former was easier to cover. No one has learned anything.” (The first three rules of investigative reporting are “Follow the money,” “follow the money,” and “follow the money,” but Rule 4 is, “Always read the documents” and Rule 5 is “Always do the math.”)

Third, he said that he did not seek charges against Trump because Justice Department policy, while authorizing investigations of a sitting president “while memories are fresh and documents are available,” forbade charging a sitting president. (For what it’s worth, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley went on CBS immediately after the statement to say that, constitutionally speaking, Mueller was “dead wrong,” that Trump indeed could have been indicted.) Mueller clearly implied that had Trump been anyone but the sitting president, he would have been indicted.

Fourth, he fleshed out that point by observing that, contrary to what Donald Trump and Barr have said, the report is not an exoneration. Indeed, he said, “As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

Fifth, he emphasized that that obstruction definitely had hampered his campaign: “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.” The implication, though it is only that, might explain why he failed to find enough evidence to indict people on the conspiracy charge. Because while Vol. 1 of the report said Mueller’s team found insufficient evidence to indict Trump on a conspiracy charge, notwithstanding Trump’s lies, you can’t swing a dead cat in it without running across multiple instances of collusion, a concept that has real-world meanings but no legal significance.

Fifth, he re-emphasized that in his view and given Justice Department policy, it was not for Justice to accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing; rather, that responsibility fell to Congress. Combined with the documentation in Vol. 2 of the Mueller report of up to 10 instances of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part, he seemed to be practically begging the House to begin impeachment hearings.

He said a few other noteworthy things, such as that even if he were to appear before Congress to testify, he would not go beyond what’s already in the report. Legally and constitutionally, that’s a dubious claim, particularly if the House opens impeachment hearings. If the House subpoenas him and asks him questions and he refuses to answer, he can be held in contempt and spend up to a year in jail. Moreover, as Esquire’s Charles Pierce observed:

He has no excuse left. He is a private citizen now. And if he only repeats what’s in the report, on television, in front of the country, it will contribute mightily to the political momentum behind the demands that Congress do its damn job or shirk its duty entirely. He still needs to testify. He still needs to take questions. He’s only a citizen like the rest of us now, and he has a duty to do the right thing. We all do.

And Mueller said that our ongoing election-security weaknesses “deserve the attention of every American.” That assertion must be weighed against Republicans’ outright hostility, and particularly that of Mitch McConnell, to taking the slightest action to make elections more secure, such as, oh, I don’t know, even holding a vote on H.R. 1.

But his main points make clear what I and many others, from Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School to Rep. Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, already have been saying: It is past time for the House to begin formal impeachment hearings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her second-in-command, Steny Hoyer, publicly have been reluctant to acknowledge that the need exists. But House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee would be the one to hold such hearings, said today:

Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that the President is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel’s report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion. Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.

Democrats have talked tough before only to fold, and there’s no guarantee they won’t fold again. But I believe at this point that whether or not Democrats actually pull the trigger on impeachment hearings, they at least have heard and understood that that is what the outgoing special counsel is asking, if not begging, them to do. I won’t reiterate the many reasons why I think it’s important to do so, except to say this: Thanks in large part to our mealy-mouthed news media, Trump has been able to spend the past two months lying with impunity about the findings of the Mueller investigation. Anyone who saw and heard Mueller speak today now knows that Trump has been gaslighting the American public — and that televised impeachment hearings aren’t just a constitutional necessity but also a necessary news and public relations corrective to Trump’s gaslighting. I hope and trust that Nadler and other House committee chairs, currently on Memorial Day recess, will make this happen soon.

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