The most interesting thing about Robert Mueller’s brief public statement closing out his special counsel appointment is the reaction it drew from those who support President Donald Trump as well as from those who cannot stand him. The various interpretations and reading between the lines that manifested in the hours following the May 29 remarks were both amusing and bewildering. The bottom line, though, is that the less than 10-minute news conference revealed only two new developments: One of them came out of something the former special counsel said and the other from something he did not say.
The one piece of news Mueller made by his words to the nation is that he has no intention of appearing before congressional committees to divulge information or to answer questions that fall outside the scope of the special counsel report. “The report is my testimony,” he said. “I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
With those words, Mueller may have dashed some hopes in the anti-Trump camp. In all likelihood, certain Democrats and media pundits had hoped that, within the setting of a congressional hearing, the former special counsel would reveal some damning evidence against the president that, for whatever reason, he had chosen not include in his report.
It was something Mueller did not say, however, that should have to put to bed another false hope on the part of those who wish to see this president taken down: Since the release of the special counsel report, the Democratic Party narrative has been the misleading of the American people by Attorney General William Barr. According to Trump’s detractors, Barr has constantly misrepresented the findings of the special counsel. Had that been the case, Mueller – in his parting words – would certainly have indicated his displeasure that the detailed conclusions of his 22-month investigation has been distorted.
The Obstruction Lie That Will Not Die
There is also no conflict between how Barr explained Mueller’s failure to reach a charging decision with regard to Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice and how Mueller himself framed it. This has been the main talking point since the report came out and it was further amped up following Mueller’s press conference.
Barr told a Senate hearing that Mueller had not deferred to a long-standing Office of Legal Counsel opinion when deciding whether to recommend an obstruction charge against the president. That opinion holds that a sitting president cannot be criminally charged. The attorney general said Mueller had assured him, on no less than three occasions, that the special counsel did not decline to recommend and obstruction charge only because the OLC opinion did not allow it.
In a recent television interview, Barr explained that there was nothing preventing Mueller from asserting that obstruction of justice took place even though the OLC opinion would have prevented a charge being filed.
The DOJ even put out a joint statement with the special counsel asserting that there was “no conflict” between the way Mueller had come to his conclusion and the way Barr had described it.
Neither in his report nor in his public statement did Mueller claim that proof of obstruction, beyond a reasonable doubt, had been established. The OLC opinion did not in any way prevent him from making such an assertion. Ultimately, the special counsel was simply unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the president had engaged in obstruction of justice, even though the report detailed 10 instances that could be construed as obstruction.
The only explanation is that Mueller, lacking unassailable evidence, felt it more prudent to present his findings on the matter and leave it to Congress to decide. As he said at the presser: “[T]he opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Decision Day on Impeachment Fast Approaching
Where does this leave the president and his political enemies, then? In reality, Mueller’s public statement changed nothing. The Democrats, with one eye on the primaries and the 2020 election, have, nevertheless, used it to push even harder for impeachment. This is, for them, a campaign strategy more than it is a reality. The impeachment window is closing fast. The optics of starting impeachment proceedings during the 2020 presidential campaign would be truly awful and the Democrats would probably rather not have the I-word taking up all the oxygen during the height of primary season.
Thus, impeachment must happen within weeks or after the next election – assuming the Democratic Party has enough votes in Congress for it — come January 2021.
As for Meuller himself, he will likely be called upon to further explain his conclusions regarding obstruction of justice and congressional Democrats will, no doubt, use that opportunity to pressure him into denouncing the attorney general as an incompetent liar. At least they will try – with very little success, in all probability. His departure from the Office of Special Counsel signifies – for the Democrats – the last, dying embers of the Russia collusion fable and they will frantically fan those final flickers of light for as long as they can.
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