I’m going to assume by now that most people who care about the Mueller report know the basics of Attorney General William Barr’s report on it by now. On the issue of collusion, there was no evidence to support the claim that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians to influence the 2016 election. On the issue of whether the president committed obstruction of justice, however, the report wasn’t quite so clear.
But here was the catch: The special counsel left the decision as to whether or not to prosecute to Attorney General Barr — and Barr, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, has already determined he doesn’t think there’s a case for obstruction.
Barr’s letter, which he sent to certain members of Congress, details what the Mueller report had to say about potential obstruction of justice,
“The report’s second part addresses a number of actions by the President — most of which have been the subject of public reporting — that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns,” the letter reads.
“After making a ‘thorough factual investigation’ into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether or not to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.
“The Special counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'”
If you want Trump out of office, that part didn’t sound quite as bad as the section about collusion. And then you went on to the next paragraph and your heart almost certainly sank. (Again.)
“The Special Counsel’s decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime,” the report continued. (Emphasis ours.)
“Over the course of the investigation, the Special Counsel’s office engaged in discussions with certain Department officials regarding many of the legal and factual matters at issue in the Special Counsel’s obstruction investigation. After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues, consulting with Department officials, including the Office of the Legal Counsel, and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decision, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.”
The report goes on to state that several factors influenced their decision, including the fact that since the president hadn’t colluded with the Russians it might be difficult to prove that he was trying to obstruct justice on that account. Regardless, you can guess how certain corners of the media took this.
“Over the 22 months of their inquiry, Robert S. Mueller III’s investigators examined countless documents and interviewed dozens of witnesses, including some of the highest-ranking lawyers and aides in the White House, to determine whether President Trump obstructed justice,” The New York Times reported.
“But in the end, the special counsel reached no conclusion — instead producing a report that merely marshaled evidence on both sides.
“Then, Attorney General William P. Barr, a political appointee whom Mr. Trump installed less than a month ago and who began reading Mr. Mueller’s report on Friday, stepped in. With the concurrence of his deputy, Rod J. Rosenstein, Mr. Barr seized the opportunity to render a judgment — pronouncing Mr. Trump clear of committing any criminal offense.”
Let’s not forget that Rosenstein is the man who supposedly considered wearing a wire to record his conversations with the president and also may have considered invoking the 25th Amendment to remove Trump from office. This is not a man who, shall we say, would be considered on the Trump train.
But then again, one understands the anguish from certain corners of the media. The Mueller report was supposed to be explosive, and even if it meant bad things for America it would certainly generate excitement. And then — fizzle. No collusion, a mixed bag on obstruction of justice and it came down to the attorney general to determine whether or not to pursue a case. He didn’t.
The Democrats are obviously angry, too. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the New York Democrat who’s been one of Trump’s loudest critics in the lower house, said he thought the decision could be a “hasty partisan interpretation of the facts.”
“I would in fact wonder if the attorney general pressured the special counsel into not making that finding so he could make the finding,” Rep. Nadler said, per The Times.
So wait, now the special counsel is being pressured by the Trump administration? The special counsel that the Democrats fought so hard to protect, the one they were so sure would produce evidence of collusion? The investigation Trump has railed against for the majority of his presidency?
This is what happens when you put all your eggs in one basket and that basket turns out to be profoundly flimsy. The special counsel wouldn’t have punted on making a determination regarding obstruction of justice if there were enough evidence to support it. There wasn’t.
Mueller was the rallying cry of the Democrats for so long. Now, it looks like even that’s disappeared.
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