On a morning of very rough questions for Robert Mueller, this was one of the toughest.
Texas Republican John Ratcliffe showed off his skills as a career prosecutor Wednesday when he pinned down the former special counsel about how the Mueller report treated President Donald Trump differently from the subjects of other investigations.
And he used legal precedent — and some of Mueller’s own words — to do it.
In kicking off his question, Ratcliffe quoted the section of Mueller’s report that found the circumstances presented “difficult issues that prevent us from determining that no criminal conduct occurred.”
“Accordingly,” Ratcliffe read, “this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
That last part is a line Democrats have been pounding ever since the Mueller report’s release in April.
But as Ratcliffe proceeded with his question, it made the conclusion sound much leakier than Democrats might like.
As Ratcliffe’s question showed, what the Mueller report did was invert the due process formula of the United States, where the presumption of innocence is paramount.
“Can you give me an example other than Donald Trump where the Justice Department determined that an investigated person was not exonerated because their innocence was not conclusively determined?” Ratcliffe asked.
“I cannot, but this is a unique situation,” Mueller responded.
Unfortunately, Ratcliff did not pursue that response.
Unique how? Because Hillary Clinton had lost an election no one in the political establishment expected her to lose?
Because Democrats and the media were howling for Mueller to come up with some kind of ammunition after spending almost two years and millions of public dollars on investigating Russian “collusion” with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election?
But what Ratcliffe did do was use his remaining time to explain just how the Mueller investigation departed from the normal American standards of procedure.
Donald Trump Jr. captured the essence on Twitter, saying, “Rep. John Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor brings the heat and shows everyone watching what a disgrace this whole ‘investigation’ was.”
Rep. John Ratcliffe, a former federal prosecutor brings the heat and shows everyone watching what a disgrace this whole “investigation” was.
Worth the watch. pic.twitter.com/Rcjrish9mR
— Donald Trump Jr. (@DonaldJTrumpJr) July 24, 2019
Ratcliffe’s presentation was wordy, and, yes, it was long-winded, but his point was well worth making:
“The bedrock principle of our justice system is a presumption of innocence,” Ratcliffe said. “It exists for everyone. Everyone is entitled to it, including sitting presidents.
“And because there is a presumption of innocence, prosecutors never, ever need to conclusively determine it.”
It’s a good bet that a man with Mueller’s long years of service in the law already knew that.
It’s a good bet that the Democrats on Capitol Hill and the liberals of the mainstream media know that. But it apparently has to be pointed out again and again — if the subject is “unique” enough.
“I agree with the chairman, this morning, when he said Donald Trump is not above the law,” Ratcliffe said. “He’s not. But he damn sure shouldn’t be below the law, which is where Volume II of this report puts him.”
It’s a point Mueller should have remembered. And after Wednesday’s round of tough questioning on Capitol Hill, he should have a tough time forgetting it.
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