By Arturo Castañares / La Prensa San Diego Publisher and CEO
After going more than two years without making any public comments as he headed the independent counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections, Robert Mueller finally spoke out on Wednesday to clarify the intention of his report.
US Attorney General William Barr gave the world his own summary of the Mueller Report back in early March just days after Mueller had turn it over to the Justice Department. Barr’s summary was that the report did not find any collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russians, and that there was no evidence that Trump tried to obstruct justice during the investigation.
According to Barr, and then Trump and his supporters, the report completely cleared Trump of any wrongdoing, and that it was the clear no one around Trump colluded with Russians.
For nearly two months now, we have heard repeated chants from Trump et al that the Mueller investigation was a waste of time, money, and manpower in its attempt to find what they maintained never existed. Case closed, they all declared.
But that’s not what Robert S. Mueller said this week. Not even close.
The surprise press conference was announced just hours before Mueller took to the podium at the Justice Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. Exactly on time at 9 a.m. Eastern time, the man who had held his tongue for two years while investigating the President of the United States finally got his opportunity to explain his work-product.
For background, Robert Mueller is a former Assistant US Attorney, former US Attorney, former Assistant US Attorney General, former Acting-Deputy US Attorney General, former Director of the FBI under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and also a highly decorated former US Marine who earned a Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V”, Purple Heart Medal, and two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat “V” during his service in Vietnam.
His stellar reputation as a serious and respected former Justice Department and FBI official is why he was appointed by then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to conduct the special investigation. Although he was routinely criticized by Donald Trump and others, there were no comments or leaks from his office during the two-year investigation.
Until this week, most people had never even heard Mueller’s voice. But when he spoke on Wednesday, the course of American history may have changed.
Robert Mueller clearly stated that Robert Mueller clearly stated that his investigation found evidence of obstruction of justice by Donald Trump but that a Department of Justice policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted limited him from bringing any charges. Mueller said that had they found no evidence of obstruction of justice, the report would have clearly stated that.
Translation. He didn’t say there was no evidence of obstruction of justice. He didn’t say Donald Trump was innocent. He didn’t exonerate the President of the United States.
Mueller said that a criminal indictment is not the way to accuse a sitting president of serious crimes.
“The Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing,” Mueller said on Wednesday.
Let that sink in for a minute.
The former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigations for 12 years, who was appointed by GW Bush and reappointed for a second term under Barack Obama on a 98-1 vote of the US Senate, a registered Republican, and is described as a good friend of current Attorney General William Barr, publicly said that there is enough evidence of obstruction of justice that he could not clear the current President.
What’s more troubling is that for two months, the Attorney General and Republicans protecting Donald Trump have carried on a charade in front of the world, restating the Mueller Report as proof of Trump’s innocence. It took two months for Mueller to finally take a stand and accurately explain his report. And that’s a shame.
The position of Attorney General of the United States is supposed to be the chief lawyer for the federal government, not the personal lawyer for the president. Historically, presidents have kept their distance from the AG so that they didn’t seem to be exerting pressure on them, especially when it involved the president himself.
It wasn’t too long ago that even a meeting between the AG and a former president was shocking, well, at least to Donald Trump.
In June 2016, former President Bill Clinton was at an airport in Phoenix at the same time that a plane carrying then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch landed there too. It was reported that Clinton boarded Lynch’s plane and they chatted for a few minutes, reported about personal issues.
But Republicans, and then-candidate Donald Trump, called it “terrible” and “unethical”. They charged that Lynch couldn’t be unbiased and impartial in her review of the Benghazi investigation and Hillary Clinton’s emails because she had met with the former president, who didn’t have any authority over her in any way.
If it was wrong for former President Clinton to even meet with the AG, then how it is acceptable for Donald Trump and William Barr to discuss the Mueller report when Trump appointed and could fire Barr?
It was Trump’s appointed AG Barr that has been describing the Mueller report for two months, and publicly declared that there was no collusion and no obstruction of justice by his boss. Barr could have let the report speak for itself, or waited for Mueller to discuss it.
If you’ve seen this movie before, its because again the Trump White House is acting much like the Nixon White House during the Watergate scandal. Back then, it was Attorney General John Mitchell, who had run Nixon’s first campaign, that took direction directly from the President.
Now, Barr, who previously served as Attorney General under George H.W. Bush, also believes in a “unitary executive” doctrine that all federal officers, agencies, and commissions must be under the direct control of the President.
AG Barr even helped Bush Sr. in pardoning six men charged or convicted in the Iran- Contra scandal, including former Secretary of Defense Casper Weinberger. Bush’s pardons ended an independent counsel investigation into the Iran-Contra affair, including Bush’s own actions that would have been investigated.
So, Donald Trump’s appointment of William Barr as Attorney General just three months ago now seems like a preemptive move to protect himself, knowing that Barr could run interference for him during and after the Mueller investigation.
Mueller’s report and comments this week should be taken at face value, and it is up to Congress to look into the underlying evidence the two-year investigation compiled. After a reported $20 million expense on the investigation, taxpayers should demand a full review – not for partisan reasons – but for full transparency. It’s what Congress does, and should do.
If, after public hearings, Congress doesn’t find enough evidence to move forward, then it ends, much like the Congressional hearings into the Benghazi incident. After two years, millions of dollars, and 11 hours of testimony by Hillary Clinton, the committees did not find any evidence of wrong-doing.
Donald Trump should not be afraid of Congressional oversight if, as he so vehemently claims, he did nothing wrong. Congress has the obligation to pursue the work of Mueller’s team to its conclusion, for the good of the country.
This shouldn’t be about Democrats or Republicans, Trump, Mueller, or Barr. It should be about the institutions that must survive these times, for all time. That’s what makes America great.