Thursday, May 30, 2019
"By The Editorial BoardMay 29, 2019
After two years of frenzied speculation, the special counsel Robert Mueller at last spoke publicly about his investigation of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections. His statement Wednesday was considered and temperate, its delivery passionless, if not robotic. If you tuned out for a moment — and who could blame you — you might have missed the import of the messages encoded in Mr. Mueller’s cautious language. Yet if you listened carefully, both for what he said and what he did not say, the statement was quite clarifying. Below are Mr. Mueller’s key points, translated.
After briefly reviewing his mandate, as laid out by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Mr. Mueller announced that his team was “formally closing the special counsel’s office,” that he was leaving the Justice Department and that “beyond these few remarks, it is important that the office’s written work speak for itself.”
Translation: I’m done with this political circus. To understand my findings, read my report. Please don’t ask me to testify.
Mr. Mueller was careful to emphasize that if his office “had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Translation: There’s a decent chance the president committed a crime.
He went on to point out that “under longstanding department policy, a president cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.” He added, “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”
Translation: This was not about a lack of evidence, and it certainly doesn’t amount to the “exoneration” President Trump has claimed. We couldn’t indict because we weren’t allowed to indict. We did, however, draw Congress a detailed map of the multiple ways that this president may have obstructed justice.
Mr. Mueller noted that department policy “explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president, because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available.”
Translation: Presidents don’t stay in office forever. Who knows how this information might come in handy to prosecutors in a couple of years?
He said that “the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
Translation: It’s called an impeachment inquiry.
Further on obstruction, Mr. Mueller said, “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”
Translation: Did you notice I said “when” not “if”? Obstruction happened; I’m being coy about who I suspect committed it.
Mr. Mueller acknowledged that, when it came to releasing the report, he and William Barr, the attorney general, had different visions of how to do so. Even so, he said, “I certainly do not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision.”
Translation: Mr. Barr made a bad decision, but I’m not going to directly criticize his initial misleading summary of the report because he made the report largely public.
As for where things go from here, Mr. Mueller had a message for Congress:
“Now, I hope and expect this to be the only time that I will speak to you in this manner. I am making that decision myself. No one has told me whether I can or should testify or speak further about this matter. There has been discussion about an appearance before Congress. Any testimony from this office would not go beyond our report. It contains our findings and analysis and the reasons for the decisions we made. We chose those words carefully, and the work speaks for itself. And the report is my testimony. I would not provide information beyond that which is already public in any appearance before Congress.”
Translation: O.K., folks, I’m begging now: Please, please don’t make me testify! I really don’t want to risk getting dragged into the congressional mosh pit and accidentally besmirching my reputation for standing above politics by straightforwardly answering a question. Even if, you know, I do expect everyone to answer my own questions honestly. And even if I’m standing here delivering a very strong hint that Congress should hold impeachment hearings. Heaven forbid that, as the foremost expert on the president’s questionable doings, with expertise earned on the taxpayer’s dime, I should endanger my own image by expressing a forthright view of those doings, even if the future of the Republic might be at stake. If you ignore this plea and subpoena me, expect me to dodge every hard question by referring you to my report. Which, by the way, you should read. Carefully.
Mr. Mueller took a moment to thank everyone “who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner. These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel’s office were of the highest integrity.”
Translation: This was not a “witch hunt,” and, contrary to the president’s claims, my team was not a bunch of “angry Democrats.”
He closed by emphasizing “the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. And that allegation deserves the attention of every American.”
Translation: This means you, Donald Trump. Time to exhibit some patriotic spirit and defend American democracy."
'Opinion | Decoding Robert Mueller