That was odd. For no reason at all Robert Mueller spoke, to say what he had to say he had already said in his report on Russian interference and all things Trump. And he had no more to say. And if anyone asks him to say more he’ll tell them to read his report, slowly and carefully. It’s all there. The Russian interference in the 2016 election was massive and all aimed at getting Trump elected, and welcomed by the Trump campaign and by Trump, the man himself. That might or might not have been a conspiracy – collusion is the popular term – but there’s not enough evidence to conclude that Team Trump and the Russians were working together. Some folks wouldn’t talk, and there was no way to get the Russians to talk, and some evidence went missing, mostly the electronic stuff. But really, Team Trump and the Russians were simply happy with each other – and that was no secret – so Mueller let the collusion stuff go. As for obstruction of justice, Mueller said read the report. Trump obviously obstructed justice about ten times, but Mueller said that he was operating under the justice department’s long-standing rule that no president can be indicted for any federal crime while in office. The justice department steps away from that – too political and probably unconstitutional. That’s not their job anyway. Congress does that sort of thing. His job was to collect the evidence.
The evidence is there. Read the report. Impeach the guy if you want, or not. Mueller was saying that he did exactly what he was supposed to do. He has nothing more to add, or to say at all. Congress has what it needs. Various committees can call him to testify before them, but he doesn’t see much point to that. He’d just say read the report. That’s all there is now, and he’s outta here. This is their problem now.
He took no questions. Read the report. He was gone, but it wasn’t that simple:
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III said Wednesday that his office could neither clear nor accuse President Trump of obstructing justice, leaving room for Congress to make a call where he would not and fueling impeachment demands among some Democrats.
In his first public remarks on the case since he concluded his investigation, Mueller said that if his office “had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” and noted that the Constitution “requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
That’d be the impeachment process in Congress, and there wasn’t much new here:
The comments – the first time Mueller has spoken on live television since his investigation began – mostly reemphasized what the special counsel already had said in his report, and they instantly fueled partisan infighting in Washington.
Some Democrats intensified their calls for impeachment, though their leadership in the House remained noncommittal.
In a statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has resisted a move toward such a step, merely thanked Mueller for providing “a record for future action both in the Congress and in the courts” and said lawmakers would “continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy.”
Several Democratic presidential contenders – including Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg – said Mueller’s comments were akin to an impeachment referral. Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) said Congress “has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.”
These people were handed clear and detailed evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors. What other choice do they have? But of course there’s disagreement on that:
Rep. Justin Amash (Mich.), the only Republican to call for impeachment, tweeted, “The ball is in our court, Congress.”
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the administration was “prepared” for an impeachment fight, though she called on Democrats to move on. “After two years, the special counsel is moving on with his life, and everyone else should do the same,” she said.
Trump said in a tweet: “Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you.”
Democrats vowed to press ahead with their investigations of Trump, and they did not immediately abandon the idea of compelling Mueller to testify. House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement after the news conference that Mueller “needs to testify before Congress” and that Mueller’s full, unredacted report needs to be turned over to lawmakers. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) said, “While I understand his reluctance to answer hypotheticals or deviate from the carefully worded conclusions he drew on his charging decisions, there are, nevertheless, a great many questions he can answer that go beyond the report, including any counterintelligence issues and classified matters that were not addressed in his findings.”
That might be a good idea, as Jonathan Chait explains here:
Famously taciturn prosecutor Robert Mueller decided to address the public to make it very clear that he did not exonerate President Trump of committing obstruction of justice. “If we had confidence that the president did not commit a crime we would have said so,” he said. Mueller cited a Department of Justice policy prohibiting a special prosecutor from charging sitting presidents: “Charging the president with a crime,” he said, “was therefore not an option we could consider.”
This banal point is important because it pithily clarifies something Trump and his allies have labored, with quite a bit of success, to obscure. Attorney General William Barr’s letter summarizing Mueller’s report presents the report as being inconclusive about the facts of Trump’s conduct. “The Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decisions but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment,” wrote Barr. “The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.”
That is wrong. Mueller was not failing to draw a conclusion about the conduct. He was concluding decisively that he did not have the power to define Trump’s conduct as a crime.
Congress does have that power, and some backing:
Hundreds of former federal prosecutors signed a letter stating that Trump’s conduct would be chargeable as a crime if he was not the president. Mueller’s view is that it’s up to Congress, not him, to make that decision. Trump and his loyal attorney general have decided to continue misleading the public about why Mueller did not formally accuse the president of crimes.
None of this will be settled soon, because each of them actually read the report. That changes things, and Andy Borowitz covers that nicely:
The special counsel Robert Mueller ignited a firestorm of controversy on Wednesday by recommending that millions of Americans read.
Mueller, seemingly oblivious to the uproar he was about to create, repeatedly commented that there was valuable information available to the American people only by reading a long book.
At the White House, sources said that Donald J. Trump was furious about Mueller’s statement because he interpreted the special counsel’s pro-reading message as a thinly veiled attack on him.
Speaking to reporters later, on the White House lawn, Trump made it clear that Mueller’s exhortation to read had fallen on deaf ears.
“I’ve never read any of my books, and I certainly don’t intend to read his,” Trump said.
The more serious David Frum is more precise about what is happening here:
A foreign power interfered in the U.S. election to help the Trump campaign. The Trump campaign welcomed the help and repeatedly lied about it. The lying successfully obscured some questions the investigation sought to answer; in the end, it found insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy. President Trump, in public and in private, worked to stop the investigation.
Those are the facts. What are the remedies? Mueller underscored at his press statement: He did not exonerate the president. Under the Department of Justice rules he was subject to, he lacked the power to act.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration refuses to take steps to secure the next presidential election against the interference that swayed the last. The question of why Russia so strongly wished to help Trump remains as mysterious as ever. In particular, if you wish to understand the breadth and depth of Trump’s Russian business connections before he declared for president in 2015, Mueller’s report will not help you.
Mueller says he can do no more. The rest, Congress, is up to you.
That’s one way to look at it, but the New York Times’ Peter Baker saw this:
At long last, the sphinx of Washington spoke on Wednesday, and here is what President Trump heard: “Case closed.” Here is what the president’s adversaries heard: “Time to impeach.”
Don’t worry, or worry big time, depending on what you thought that you had heard:
In his dry, lawyerly, scripted statement, Mr. Mueller gave voice for the first time to the damning details he uncovered about Russia’s efforts to disrupt American democracy and Mr. Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation. He chose in the end to speak out, just this once if he has his way, to plead for a deliberate assessment of the facts from a deeply divided political system that shows no willingness to look at his findings through his dispassionate eyes.
He did not accuse the president of a crime. But Mr. Mueller seemed to hint that he might have if he could have and pointedly refused to exonerate Mr. Trump. Likewise, he implied that Congress could pursue impeachment without directly recommending it.
Perhaps that is too subtle for a crude and rude guy like Trump:
At the White House, Mr. Trump watched Mr. Mueller live on television from the residence, where he spent most of the day. He met briefly afterward with a few members of his staff and issued claims of vindication via Twitter and a press statement. But privately he complained that Mr. Mueller had always been out to get him and was peeved that more people were not defending him on television, according to people informed about his day.
Aides said the dominant feeling inside the West Wing was outrage at Mr. Mueller, but they also concluded that the special counsel had not changed the overall dynamics and no special efforts were made to reassure allies on Capitol Hill. No new facts emerged, no smoking gun that had not already been known. Mr. Mueller made clear that he would not go beyond his report even if he was dragged before a congressional committee.
All that happened, as one White House aide put it, was that Mr. Trump’s opponents shook the snow globe and stirred things up.
That must have been a relief, but that’s not what others saw:
Republicans said they felt confident Democrats would make themselves look like partisan Trump haters who refuse to give up… But Republicans will come under pressure, too, forced to defend or dismiss questions about actions that many of them privately consider objectionable, or worse.
In short, this is a mess. No one expected this, but Paul Waldman thinks Barack Obama spoiled the nation:
It started with the 2008 campaign, an extraordinary enterprise that gave Democrats not just hope that Obama could win but also hope that the entirety of American politics could be transformed into something that, frankly, it has never been. During that year’s primaries, Hillary Clinton argued that he was selling a gauzy vision that was blind to the cruel realities of politics, and most Democrats responded, “We don’t care. This feels too good.” It’s a testament to Obama’s singular political talent and charisma that he could pull that off.
Then it turned out that governing is not just hard, but often unpleasant. It involves setbacks and compromises even when it’s successful. And Republican obstruction poisoned everything. By the end of Obama’s eight years, what Democrats hoped would be a glorious dance into a shining new era turned out to be a crawl over broken glass for every incremental victory.
And then to top it off, Donald Trump got elected. So Obama started by lifting liberals’ spirits as high as they had ever been, and left with those spirits in tatters. Trump’s election said to them, “Everything you thought was true about America, about how it could be open and inclusive and diverse and forward-looking? Well, America just elected this guy.”
Had they not felt so much hope eight years before, it might not have been so painful.
Nancy LeTourneau then adds this:
Prior to the 2016 elections, I constantly told my friends not to worry because the voters who elected Barack Obama would never turn around and elect Donald Trump. Obviously I was terribly wrong, which meant that I had some deep soul-searching to do. The optimism I’d adopted about this country took a blow, and I’m continuing to get more pessimistic as time goes by…
Perhaps it was precisely because our 44th president was so intelligent and charismatic that a lot of people thought that he could transform American politics into something it’s never been, and that governing – especially given Republican obstructionism – would ever be anything other than crawling “over broken glass for every incremental victory.” Perhaps Obama should have been more stern in his warnings that he couldn’t pull it off all by himself. A speech extolling the importance of citizenship at the 2012 Democratic convention might not have been direct enough.
At any rate, too many of us never got the message. Then Donald Trump was elected, declaring that “I alone can fix this.”
And now we have this. Robert Mueller points to what he found – the Russians did all they could to make sure that Donald Trump won the presidency, and the Trump campaign gladly accepted the help, and then Trump himself systematically tried to end any investigation of any of that. And then Mueller laid it all out – for Congress, because only they could fix this. Then he walked way. This isn’t his fight now.
But what will the “nice” liberals and progressives and old-school Democrats do now?
Charles Blow has some ideas:
Republicans have their fangs bared and you have your tails tucked. You are an embarrassment. There is no polite way to fight. Fighting is nasty, instinctual and vicious. Good people don’t relish it, but goodness dies and ruin is left in its wake when good people don’t fight when fighting is required.
I am at my wits’ end with the fear. I live by a different creed: Never be afraid to do what’s right. And, I don’t believe that opening an impeachment inquiry helps Trump in 2020 and hurts Democrats.
To the contrary, I trust truth.
Who doesn’t, other than that guy in the White House?