Mueller Statement Shows Congress Must Act
One of the most overused phrases over the last year and a half is “no one knows what Robert Mueller knows”. Similarly, no one knows what Robert Mueller is thinking. After radio silence on any and all stories about his investigation since its inception, the Special Counsel’s office shocked everyone with a cryptic statement that disputed certain details in the Buzzfeed story whose highlight was that Mueller had testimony and evidence that Trump directed Cohen to lie to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project.
Despite the official standard denial to comment, the Special Counsel’s office continually has a back and forth with reporters about stories news organizations intend to run. That is simply the normal course of journalism. In this case, there was obviously a miscommunication between the Buzzfeed reporters and the Special Counsel’s office. As emptywheel theorizes, the issue revolved around the Buzzfeed claims that “[t]he special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents”.
The problem with that reporting for Mueller is that Cohen specifically stated in the allocution admitting his guilt that he lied to Congress “to support and advance Client-1’s [Trump’s] political messaging”, not because he was directed to. If what Buzzfeed reported was true, then Mueller should never had allowed Cohen to make that allocution. Moreover, Mueller is interested in protecting Cohen’s credibility for his eventual testimony. Emptywheel makes other critical points about what this rare comment from Mueller’s office says about other aspects of the investigation and how it may be moving forward. It is all worth reading.
More disturbing is another possibility and that is that Mueller’s office was instructed to put out this statement. That is at least suggested by the Washington Post article that says “lawyers at the special counsel’s office discussed the statement internally, rather than conferring with Justice Department leaders, for much of the day. In the advanced stages of those talks, the deputy attorney general’s office called to inquire if the special counsel planned any kind of response, and was informed a statement was being prepared.” The fact that Rosenstein was simply asking this question is disturbing enough. If Whitaker demanded Rosenstein do that, that would be even worse. In any case, emptywheel makes the case that the question alone was a violation of the Special Counsel regulations. That also opens up the even more frightening prospect that Rosenstein could now be fired for that violation.
Whatever reasons, no matter how valid, that Mueller has for his statement, it is still incredibly problematic. As many have pointed out, this would seem to indicate that all the other reporting about his investigation has been flawless. But we know that’s not true, because Mueller’s indictments have shown that some prior reporting was in error. In addition, Mueller has never commented on the literally thousands of false claims about his investigation that have emanated from the Trump camp. This leaves the somewhat unsettling impression that the media must be held to a standard that approaches perfection while the President can literally spout anything he wants, no matter how fantastical, about the investigation.
Besides providing fodder for Trump’s defense and attacks on the media, Mueller’s statement also overshadowed the parts of the Buzzfeed article that Mueller was apparently not disputing that moved our understanding of the collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russians forward. That would be the fact that Cohen was in constant communication with the Trump organization about the progress of the real estate negotiations and that the proposed deal would conceivably be as big as every other deal the Organization had ever done. It is clear that Cohen coordinated his lies to Congress with members of the Trump Organization, even if he did not receive a direct order to lie. In addition, the President was silent and made no attempt to correct the record when Cohen did lie.
The whole incident highlights the problem with relying on a legal process to solve what is now clearly one of the most severe political crises our democracy has seen in generations. I have already expressed my frustration at Mueller’s refusal to acknowledge the political environment of his investigation. The national security community, and especially James Comey, totally botched their jobs during the 2016 election, refusing to inform the American people about clear and present dangers, and thereby allowing Donald Trump to become President. Americans still had no clear and definitive information about the true depth of Trump’s involvement with the Russians for the 2018 election. That is two elections in a row where the American electorate was deliberately denied critical information necessary to make a clearly informed choice. That is unacceptable. Moreover, the longer Mueller’s investigation drags on, the greater the damage Trump is doing to our country and our security. The selling of his office, the witness tampering and intimidation, the blatant attempts at obstruction, the outright corruption within the federal agencies and government he oversees and often directs, all of that is bad enough. But worse, is the distinct concern that he is actually selling out our national security to anyone who will pay.
I have also argued against Democrats beginning impeachment proceedings. As predicted, the demands from centrists and media pundits to do exactly that are getting louder. To me, this is just another example of requiring Democrats to be the adults in the room and expend their political capital to save the country from whatever disaster the Republicans have foisted on the country and save the GOP from real accountability and responsibility for their actions. Moreover, using that political capital to pursue an impeachment that has no chance of conviction in the Senate and will probably thereby enhance Trump’s power seems incredibly foolhardy and counterproductive.
What is clear from Mueller’s actions is that the American people can no longer wait for him to dot every “I” and cross every “t” in order to obtain proof beyond a reasonable doubt that will hold up in court. Democrats must begin their investigation quickly and with all due speed. These should just be investigations, not impeachment proceedings. This process will begin with Cohen’s testimony to Congress in just a few weeks and hopefully continue apace. And Democrats should begin to push back on any claims that Mueller makes to restrict witnesses’ testimony to Congress. If requiring witnesses to answer questions about the Russia investigation compromises future criminal prosecutions, then so be it. There is strong evidence that the leader of this country is acting as a foreign agent. The American people need to know all the gory details and, based on Trump’s recent actions, it is clear that time is of the essence.
For too long, Republicans in the House and the Senate have been able to hide behind the secrecy of the Mueller investigation. That not only allowed the GOP to make little effort to inform the American people about our ongoing political crisis, it also created space for others in the party, who may themselves be compromised by Russian money and support, to try to subvert and destroy the investigation. If, after hearing all the evidence Democrats produce, Republicans in the House and, more importantly, the Senate are amenable to impeachment then we can move forward on that track. If not, then at least the American electorate will know all the evidence those Republicans are willing to ignore and exactly where they stand.
Originally published at thesoundings.com on January 20, 2019.