Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Mueller Mystery deepens on obstruction - no crime but no exoneration

The great mystery about the Mueller investigation was his failure to come to a decision on the obstruction of justice charge. Mueller wrote "While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

That turned what was supposed to be an apolitical process into a political mess; political circus is not too strong a descriptor. The ever-lying Donald Trump trumpeted “EXONERATE” even though Mueller did not exonerate Trump on the obstruction question. In the absence of a release of Mueller’s full report, Scriber’s usual sources have lots to speculate about.

In Barr memo leaves much unanswered about Mueller report findings “Rachel Maddow reviews Attorney General William Barr’s memo to Congress about the conclusions of the Mueller Report and asks some of the questions that are not addressed and also newly raised.” Indeed, she enumerates 15 of them.

The most important, at this stage, is why Mueller left unresolved the question of obstruction of justice by the president. Did he or didn’t he?

More Questions Emerge About Mueller’s Punt on Obstruction of Justice writes New Yorker columnist John Cassidy.

Why didn’t the special counsel, Robert Mueller, reach a judgment on whether Donald Trump has obstructed justice? Forty-eight hours after William Barr sent his four-page letter to Congress, in which he revealed that the special counsel had punted on one of the two central issues of his investigation, we still don’t have a clue. Indeed, the mystery has deepened.

… Mueller’s inaction also startled some veterans of the Justice Department. “I was shocked and remain somewhat bewildered as to why the special counsel did not conduct the customary balancing tests set out by the principles of federal prosecution, the guidebook for all prosecutors, by assessing whether there was sufficient admissible evidence to charge the President with obstruction,” David Laufman, a Washington lawyer who has held a number of senior jobs at Justice, including heading up its national-security division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section, told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Monday night. “We just don’t have any visibility as to what his reasons were.”

Maddow asked Laufman if Mueller might have believed, for whatever reason, that he didn’t have the option of issuing a judgment. “It is a possibility,” Laufman replied. “But . . . then why go through the exhaustive effort of conducting one of the most probing criminal investigations in the history of the Department of Justice, and leave it in an unresolved state—in essence, putting at risk the work he did by committing it to the discretion of the two most senior political appointees in the Department of Justice, who, not unexpectedly, filled that void by substituting their judgment for the judgment we expected the special counsel to exercise?”

… before resolving the question of impeachment, we need to learn much about what Mueller’s team found, what it didn’t find, and why he determined not to decide whether the President obstructed justice. To be sure, Mueller may have had some defensible arguments for his inaction. But it’s hard to sustain the claim that a judgment from him wouldn’t have had any practical value.

It would have had an enormous impact. If Mueller had said the evidence wasn’t sufficient to establish that Trump obstructed justice, the White House’s victory would have been complete. If Mueller had said the balance of evidence indicated that Trump did obstruct justice, impeachment would have been back on the table, although still unlikely to succeed, given the President’s grip on the G.O.P. In any case, though, a statement from an independent prosecutor that there were sufficient grounds for prosecution would have had great political and symbolic importance. It would have shown that, even if a President can’t be frog-marched into court while he is in office, he is still not above the legal process.

Rather than reaching a decision, the special counsel wrote, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” That left the entire thing up in the air. I’m sticking with my original opinion: it looks like a cop-out.

The Daily Star reprinted this Editorial: Even as Trump campaign is cleared on Russian interference coordination, obstruction cloud remains in absence of full report - from the NY Daily News. I’ve identified three facts we need to keep in mind.

[Fact #1:] Barr relays Mueller’s own words, saying while the report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Further, Barr writes that this judgment was based on a close look at a number of actions, “most of which” have been aired publicly. [Fact #2:] Most, not all: That means there are instances of interference beyond the catalog already in public view.

But wait, say Trump’s most strident defenders, it’s nonsensical to obstruct an inquiry when there’s no underlying crime.

[Fact #3:] Not so. A president need not fear the revelation of the specific offense to worry about what a lawman digging around might turn up, and then improperly act on those fears.

That is, it is possible to obstruct justice even in the absence of a crime.

[Fact #4:] Trump will continue to lie about Fact #3.

So, two years of impartial investigation resulted in an open question, and two presidential appointees — Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein — were left to render a conclusion favorable to the president?

What does the report actually say?

It is imperative that the full report be made available to Congress and delivered to the American people.

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