Make it Plain, make it clear

There is a great debate about whether the Mueller witch hunt turned up enough evidence of presidential wrongdoing, in spite of the many repetitions of NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION, complete and total EXONERATION, to require hearings in Congress about Trump’s obstructive acts to determine whether he needs to be removed from office.   The big bone of contention, among many Democrats, is that such hearings could strengthen the perpetually campaigning president when the Republican-controlled Senate refuses to remove him from office, no matter how strong the evidence against him is.

Much of this debate is based on sound bytes.  Mueller has provided none, though his detractors and interpreters have provided a ton of them.   Mueller comports himself like a public servant who lives in a country of literate, law-abiding, thoughtful patriots like himself.   He writes and speaks in a measured, disciplined way.  He does not tweet.  He hopes not to speak publicly again on the matter he has investigated for almost two years and written out over 448 precisely worded pages.

Two OLC memos lay out an opinion that a sitting president can’t be indicted while in office.   Mueller cites the regulation that requires his office to follow this opinion.   Since he cannot indict the president, he considered it unfair to accuse him, even secretly, in a sealed indictment, of doing the illegal things he appears to have done.   The regulations he was bound to comply with put Mueller in a bind.  The bind was that he uncovered a lot of evidence of serious presidential wrongdoing.

Enter Bill Barr, who needs no introduction at this point.  A master of evasion who auditioned for the job of protecting the president from the Mueller report with a 19 page legal opinion that showed the boss his formidable legal chops.   In that memo Barr laid out exactly how he would defend the president, no matter what the Special Counsel’s investigation unearthed.   Once appointed, Barr was as good as his word.  

According to Barr, Mueller left the charging decision up to the Attorney General, and his decision was that the report pretty much exonerates the president, since it did not prove that he was part of a criminal conspiracy with Russia and it did not prove that Trump, in spite of his many overt and some covert obstructive acts, (acts Barr explained away as motivated by the understandable anger and frustration of an unfairly accused, innocent man)  did anything to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference on behalf of the Trump campaign.  In short: no collusion, no obstruction.

Mueller immediately wrote a letter to Barr, a most unusual move for a DOJ subordinate, pointing out to Barr that he had sewn confusion in the minds of Americans by misrepresenting the substance and findings of his report.    Mueller asked Barr to immediately release Mueller’s redacted summary, which includes his conclusion that nothing in his report exonerates Trump. [1]

Here is the heart of that short letter.  It does not make for a sound byte, though I have inserted a few line breaks, for emphasis (and to make it read like a series of tweets, many Americans’ preferred format):

…Accordingly, the enclosed documents are in a form that can be released to the public consistent with legal requirements and Department policies.

I am requesting that you provide these materials to Congress and authorize their public release at this time.

The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.

We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25.  

There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.

This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations. See Department of Justice, Press Release (May 17, 2017).

Barr did what Mueller asked, but he waited a few weeks before releasing anything from Mueller.  He did this to allow time for his misleading interpretation to solidify as the controlling narrative of Mueller’s findings.  Not undermining public confidence in DOJ investigations was not Barr’s main concern, protecting the president, his client and master, from impeachment was.

Enter more than 1,000 former federal prosecutors, Democrats and Republicans, who sign a public letter citing findings from Mueller’s report and making a strong case that but for the fact that Trump is the sitting president, and OLC memos hold him immune from prosecution while in office, there was enough evidence in the report to indict anyone not protected by a special DOJ opinion.   Read their letter.  Hard to argue that they’re wrong, or rabid partisans, or that anyone else would not be slapped with multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice based on the weight of the evidence Mueller sets out.  

Hard to argue, also, that they wrote something that can be reduced to a tweet:

Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.

The Mueller report describes several acts that satisfy all of the elements for an obstruction charge: conduct that obstructed or attempted to obstruct the truth-finding process, as to which the evidence of corrupt intent and connection to pending proceedings is overwhelming. These include:

and they go on to list a bunch of damning examples.  

But it’s not a tweet!

Mueller resigns earlier this week, his work done.  He gives a nine minute farewell speech during which he emphasizes that his report shows active Russian interference in the 2016 election, on behalf of the president, and that Americans need to do something about this vulnerability in our electoral system.   He also encourages all Americans to read his report, which, he points out, speaks for itself.

Barr got right to work, speaking before and after Mueller’s brief remarks (the follow up was done during a deliberately misleading chat with a CBS interviewer) making sure the confusing and misleading counter narrative he originally spun about the substance and findings of the report was fresh in everyone’s mind.  

You can read exactly what Mueller said in his farewell remarks here. 

Or you can just read this tweet from former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough, which contains two statements from Mueller’s speech:

Screen shot 2019-05-31 at 3.09.43 AM.png

Yes, Joe, the thing speaks for itself.

Now Democrats need to stop cowering in front of polls and hypotheticals about how much Trump would love an impeachment narrative for 2020, and start dragging witnesses in to testify about what they told Mueller.  Let America watch as these sworn witnesses tell the public what they told Mueller’s investigators, on must-see live television.  This is crucial, since virtually no Americans who need to be convinced are going to read Mueller’s book.   It will also be instructive to watch the angry president’s increasingly unhinged reactions to the sworn testimony as it comes out.  

Until the inevitable impeachment hearings begin, I refer those lazy patriots to Joe Scarborough’s tweet (above).  And God bless these United States…

 

[1]   Mueller wrote Barr on March 27, 2019

Dear Attorney General Barr:

I previously sent you a letter dated March 25, 2019, that enclosed the introduction and executive summary for each volume of the Special Counsel’s report marked with redactions to remove any information that potentially could be protected by Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); that concerned declination decisions; or that related to a charged case. We also had marked an additional two sentences for review and have now confirmed that these sentences can be released publicly.

Accordingly, the enclosed documents are in a form that can be released to the public consistent with legal requirements and Department policies. I am requesting that you provide these materials to Congress and authorize their public release at this time.

As we stated in our meeting of March 5 and reiterated to the Department early in the afternoon of March 24, the introductions and executive summaries of our two-volume report accurately summarize this Office’s work and conclusions. The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions. We communicated that concern to the Department on the morning of March 25.  There is now public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation. This threatens to undermine a central purpose for which the Department appointed the Special Counsel: to assure full public confidence in the outcome of the investigations. See Department of Justice, Press Release (May 17, 2017).

While we understand that the Department is reviewing the full report to determine what is appropriate for public release — a process that our Office is working with you to complete — that process need not delay release of the enclosed materials. Release at this time would alleviate the misunderstandings that have arisen and would answer congressional and public questions about the nature and outcome of our investigation. It would also accord with the standard for public release of notifications to Congress cited in your letter. See 28 C.F.R. 609(c) (“the Attorney General may determine the public release” of congressional notifications “would be in the public interest”).

Sincerely yours,

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