Analysis (April 4, 2019) Attorney General William Barr released his conclusions on the Mueller report two weeks ago. According to the AG it exonerated president Donald Trump on conspiracy charges. Collusion does not exist in American law, so that would never be proven, or disproven. However, Robert Mueller III did not come to a conclusion on the obstruction of Justice. Barr’s letter was an attempt to set the narrative and move on. It increasingly looks like a coverup. Why? His conclusions were not in line with the report. How do we know? As expected, somebody talked to the New York Times, and other media.
According to the Times story:
The officials and others interviewed declined to flesh out why some of the special counsel’s investigators viewed their findings as potentially more damaging for the president than Mr. Barr explained, although the report is believed to examine Mr. Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation. It was unclear how much discussion Mr. Mueller and his investigators had with senior Justice Department officials about how their findings would be made public. It was also unclear how widespread the vexation is among the special counsel team, which included 19 lawyers, about 40 F.B.I. agents and other personnel.
The Washington Post went further with the reporting on this discomfort. They follow with this:
Summaries were prepared for different sections of the report, with a view that they could made public, the official said.
With the term whirling around Washington, a former federal prosecutor explains what to know about the criminal charge of obstruction of justice. (Jenny Starrs/The Washington Post) The report was prepared “so that the front matter from each section could have been released immediately — or very quickly,” the official said. “It was done in a way that minimum redactions, if any, would have been necessary, and the work would have spoken for itself.”
Mueller’s team assumed the information was going to be made available to the public, the official said, “and so they prepared their summaries to be shared in their own words — and not in the attorney general’s summary of their work, as turned out to be the case.”
There is a suspicion that some of the Mueller report was designed to present the evidence to Congress, not unlike both Special Counsel reports during Watergate and the Lewinsky scandal. Both were turned over to Congress and both where the midway point in both scandals. The House is ready to go to the mat to get the full report, including Grand Jury material, and both those scandals are the precedent that will likely be cited. Ultimately, it is Congress that has to make a determination about impeachment. Congress has an oversight obligation and they intend to follow through. However, we know that the Democratic leadership is reluctant to go for impeachment, even if some of the new firebrands would do it in a New York minute.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was a young representative when President Bill Clinton was impeached. He survived in the Senate and his popularity rose. She fears that the American people will see an impeachment, with no conviction (and removal) in the Senate, as a purely political act. This will all but ensure the reelection of the president. It may also explain why she walked away from impeaching George W Bush in 2006 as well. Oh never mind the administration lied the country into the Iraq war. For that, some in the Democratic base have yet to forgive her or forget.
This is why she has repeatedly said that unless there is bipartisan support (and 67 votes in the Senate to indict) she will not proceed with impeachment. The trial of William Jefferson Clinton in the United States Senate was political posturing and a joke. While it lasted five weeks, it was deeply partisan. There were two counts and on both, he was acquitted by large numbers. He remained in office and became even more popular.
Impeachment is ultimately a political act. However, the Mueller team had another problem, even if reportedly this did not enter the discussion. They have to deal with internal Justice Department rules that say that a sitting president cannot be indicted by the Justice Department because it is going to impede with the job. This is nowhere in the Constitution. Here is a fun fact. President Ulysses S Grant was arrested and fined for a misdemeanor, while in office.
He actually was racing his buggy on M street, where he was taken into custody,” says Cathy Lanier, today’s D.C. police chief. “We seize his horse and buggy.”
Lanier says it wasn’t an isolated incident for Grant.
“The metropolitan police department actually stopped and cited Ulysses S. Grant three times for speeding,” she says.
After police hauled the president down to the police station, they were unsure if they could charge a sitting president if he had not been impeached.
The police asked those questions rightfully so, but they still fined Grant, who paid it and moved on. Not just once, but three times. He was aware of a critical principle of American law. No person is above the law. The DOJ memo in-effect places the president in that lofty place. In essence, he (or in time she) is above the law, and not different from a king.
No president in American history has been removed though the impeachment process. It was made this difficult for a reason. The Founders feared that ease would mean removal for silly reasons. After all, high crimes and misdemeanors is not defined. It is a thing you should recognize when you see it. Let’s face it, the Clinton impeachment was purely political and at no time did Republicans have the votes to indict. However, Richard Nixon resigned instead of facing the process. He was assured that the votes did exist. Likely, those included votes in the Senate, as in 67 votes. He chose not to risk it.
The actions of President Gerald Ford did prevent Nixon from facing the courts. That pardon was meant to let the country move on. It was also intended to force Nixon to take responsibility. Accepting a pardon means an admission of guilt. So even though Tricky Dick did not face one day in federal prison, he ultimately had the worst possible fate. He had to leave office, and he was disgraced.
That pardon has been debated ever since. In some ways, people believe that it set the way for a presidency that is even less accountable to the rule of law. Clinton’s impeachment had far more of an effect in my mind. It has made Democrats gun shy about pushing for accountability, while Republicans see the mere act as revenge over Nixon. It has also increased hyper-partisanship in the country. And in case you wonder, the DOJ memo in question, is a product the Clinton DOJ. On the other hand, so is the renewal of the Special Counsel statue that led to both the Starr investigation and the Mueller investigation. It was a statue William Barr tried to kill. Yes, that is the current AG.
Robert Mueller, as many of us suspected, laid the facts in a report that AG Barr does not want to release, or turn over to Congress. Both the Watergate and Starr reports were turned over to Congress in full. This is the background for the Democrats claim that they have a right to see it. Precedence is on their side, and likely this will end up in the courts.
The constitutional crisis continues to deepen. In reality, if the president is deemed above the law, this will not be limited to this administration. It will carry forwards to future presidents who will cite this. It is truly be careful what you ask for. In effect, the constitutional order may be coming to an end. And when it does, it will die with a whimper, not a bang.