Mueller’s cop-out

Scott has embedded Attorney General Barr’s summary of the Mueller report. The letter covers two issues: (1) Mueller’s conclusion regarding claims that President Trump conspired with Russia during the 2016 election campaign and (2) Mueller’s non-conclusion regarding claims that Trump obstructed justice.

On the conspiracy issue, Mueller’s conclusion is a rout for Trump, as Steve says. According to Barr, Mueller reports that he employed 19 lawyers, aided by 40 FBI agents and other staff members. They issued more than 2,800 subpoenas and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

With all of this effort, Mueller’s investigation “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.” Mueller did not find that the campaign conspired or knowingly coordinated with Russia’s efforts on social media to influence the election. Nor did he find that the campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its hacking of various email accounts. All of this, “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

This is, indeed, a rout of the Trump-hating conspiracy mongers.

The “collusion” theme was a hoax ginned up by Trump’s political enemies within the U.S. government. Now that it has been conclusively debunked, those who ginned it up should be held accountable. With perhaps a few exceptions, they won’t be, though.

On obstruction of justice, Mueller cops out. In Barr’s words, Mueller “does not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct [by President Trump] constituted obstruction.” In Mueller’s words, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Thus, as Barr says, it is left to him, as the Attorney General, to determine whether the conduct Mueller describes in the report constitutes a crime.

Maybe I’m missing something here, but I thought the point of having an independent counsel was to obtain an independent assessment as to whether the president committed crimes. The idea (or the pretext) was that this judgment shouldn’t be made by an individual beholden to Trump for his job. Instead, it should be made by the independent, untainted Mr. Mueller.

But Mueller has declined to do this job on the obstruction of justice issue. He has punted the ball to Barr.

Barr, for his part, has no difficulty concluding (in conjunction with Rod Rosenstein) that Trump did not commit the crime of obstruction of justice. And it’s important to note that he did not reach this conclusion based on any technicality. He states that his decision isn’t grounded in constitutional issues. Thus, it isn’t based, for example, on any theory that, as a matter of law, a president doesn’t obstruct justice by carrying out such duties as firing executive branch personnel.

No. Barr has simply concluded that the elements of the crime of obstruction of justice are not present here. He states:

[T]he report identifies no actions that, in our judgement, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.

If Mueller agreed that the elements of obstruction of justice aren’t satisfied here, he should have said so. If he disagreed, he should have said that.

By punting to Barr on obstruction, Mueller is implicitly acknowledging that the current Attorney General can be trusted to review the facts and reach an unbiased decision as to whether they describe a crime. But that acknowledgement won’t be accepted by Democrats and elements of the media.

Thus, Barr will come under attack and, presumably, be interrogated by House Democrats. And Trump’s vindication will be less complete than it should be (from all that appears now).

All because Mueller, in the end, shied away from doing his job.

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