As a prosecutor who styles himself detached, dispassionate and above reproach, Robert Mueller has become a political bomb thrower. There is no other way to describe his behavior. After Wednesday’s press conference, the Senate Judiciary Committee should call him to testify and ask hard questions.
I was an early supporter of the Russia inquiry, and strongly opposed Mueller’s removal. But the wheel has turned. A review of facts suggests his inquiry may have angled for something beyond collusion or evidence sufficient to support obstruction charges – neither of which were found.
The real aim may have been two-fold. As a 12-year FBI Director, Mueller must have had indigestion when he uncovered gross FBI malfeasance at the top, starting with his friend James Comey. The impulse to look the other way must have been strong.
Second, when Mueller realized no collusion existed – or sufficient evidence to charge obstruction – a sense of purposelessness must have weighed down his team.
Perhaps, that is when another idea surfaced. If they had to report findings, they could use the report to vindicate the FBI, more from institutional than personal loyalty. Forced to justify a $30 million-dollar inquiry, they could also set the congressional spike, especially after Democrats won control of the House. They arranged the testimony from 500 witnesses, 3,500 subpoenas and warrants, and a million freely-produced administration documents – to tell a story.
The story was long and selective, leaving just enough to the public imagination to create what they thought would be an inevitable conclusion – all breadcrumbs led to dinner, all roads to Rome, all insinuations, ambiguities and prevarications to impeachment.
Only something strange happened on the way to the table, coliseum and impeachment. Neither the attorney general nor deputy thought Mueller’s findings warranted further discussion. The report, redacted to protect grand jury material, effectively cleared the president. In a world where innocence prevails until guilt is proven, the story was over.
This was not the end Mueller thought he had written. He could have done that in 10 pages. Instead, he rolled out a 448-page report with unstated assumptions, unverified inferences, uninvestigated counter-inferences, and what he thought was the case for impeachment.
When the attorney general, majority of the legal community and public concluded otherwise, Mueller could not stay silent. He did something unorthodox. He wrote a letter to the attorney general re-arguing his case and boldly leaked it to the media.
When that tactic failed and House Democrats demanded the un-redacted report with protected grand jury material, Mueller could have issued a one-liner defending the attorney general and 200 years of American jurisprudence. He did not.
Then Wednesday, sensing his report’s impeachment message was getting lost, the narrative getting cold, Mueller conducted a press conference backhandedly suggesting impeachment, despite the report’s empirical failure to support that call. He took no questions – and perfunctorily left.
Not so fast … In the context of post-report showboating, Mueller should be asked some hard questions, like:
- If you knew there was no collusion early on, why did you continue the investigation?
- If you thought there was no obstruction, why did you lay out a case for it?
- If you knew your prosecutorial colleagues were conflicted by strong support for the Clinton campaign, why did you hire them?
Other questions burn: If you knew the former FBI Director, Deputy Director, and other senior FBI personnel were compromised by poor judgement, illegal leaks, prejudice and passing sensitive information to cut-outs – if not worse – why did you not investigate them? Why did you write a report which appears to consciously overlook, forgive or remain silent on these misdeeds?
Why, if you knew the predicate for FISA warrants was tainted, and these formed the basis for your own investigation, did you not end the inquiry – right there? Why did you not investigate the false basis for those FISA warrant applications? Why did you not address a miscarriage of justice at the highest levels?
And if you knew a presidential campaign had been illegally surveilled, using a foreign government to backchannel information, why did you not investigate that? Why did you not investigate intelligence reports behind the unmasking of some 300 innocent Americans by the Obama White House?
In short, Mueller, how is it that your report omits inquiry into origins of collusion allegations you were commissioned to investigate? And how do you explain your recent behavior – which appears aimed at clearing the FBI and intentionally encouraging impeachment?
Perhaps time before the Senate Judiciary Committee would help America understand why certain questions got answered, others left unanswered, especially since the House has decided not to hear from Mueller. Average Americans would like to know – what’s behind this show?