An ABC News/Washington Post poll on the Mueller report (Apr. 26), found that 58 percent of those polled believe that Trump did not tell the truth about the investigation. A slimmer margin, (47 percent vs. 41 percent), believe the President obstructed justice. And 56 percent believe that Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings.
Nonetheless, 31 percent believe the report “Cleared Trump” vs. 53 percent who believe the report “Did not clear Trump,” even as Trump continues to claim, “complete and total exoneration.”
But that’s not what the Mueller report says.
“…while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” [page 182]
At the beginning of that graph, Mueller describes “difficult issues”:
“The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment.” [page 182]
Watergate’s John Dean has perhaps, more experience with lying and obstruction than anyone else as one of the Nixon scandal’s key participants. He ultimately pleaded guilty to obstruction and testified before Senate investigators in a riveting three-day hearing.
Dean was asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper (Apr. 18), for his opinion of the Mueller report.
After reacquainting himself with the Watergate, Iran Contra and Whitewater reports, Dean says, “this report from the special counsel is more damning than all those reports about a president. This is really a devastating report. …
“Does it rise to the level of a criminal conspiracy? Apparently not, at least with the evidence that’s available. Not everybody was willing to talk about everything that was available. A lot of messages were encrypted…
However, Dean continues, “as far as the obstruction goes, this is clear obstruction, Jake. The obstruction statute is an endeavor statute, as well as actual overt action. … if you endeavor to obstruct, and there is much evidence here of endeavor, you violated the obstruction statute.”
“And yet,” Tapper interjects, “Mueller kicked that question to Congress. …
“Mueller concludes the efforts were not as successful as they might have been because so many of his staffers refused to carry out his orders, such as Don McGahn, former White House counsel for Trump, who refused to fire Bob Mueller, and refused to lie about the president’s request that he fire Bob Mueller.
“As a former White House counsel, what was your reaction to that part of the report?” Tapper asks.
“Well,” Dean says, “I think that, obviously, Mr. McGahn did the right thing in not following his orders, as did others. They know he thinks at the extremes. He’s incautious. He doesn’t give a hoot about the law, and they were smart enough not to cross the line. That doesn’t eliminate his mental attitude and the endeavor part of
“Just because it’s not successful doesn’t mean that you didn’t try to obstruct and didn’t endeavor to obstruct. So I think Congress has to look at this because a president’s mental attitude is just as important as his actions.”
“Mueller’s report says,” Tapper adds, “[that] the president told his former campaign manager Cory Lewandowski to give Jeff Sessions a dictated message. He wanted Sessions to say the investigation was very unfair and to focus on future election meddling, not past. Lewandowski ultimately declined to deliver the message.” …
“That wasn’t uncommon with Nixon either,” says Dean. “There were times when his top aides Haldeman and Ehrlichman we know from today of having the availability of all his taped conversations, they didn’t carry out everything he requested and often restrained Nixon. That didn’t, however, absolve him of the problems he was confronted with.”
From an ethical perspective, the evidence could not be any clearer: Trump lied, attempted to cover-up those lies as well as attempting – on several occasions – to fire both Sessions and the special counsel.
Now, late Tuesday, word comes that the Office of Special Counsel was so troubled by Attorney General Bill Barr’s 4-page characterization of the special counsel report that Mueller detailed his concerns in a letter addressed to Barr.
As reported by The New York Times (Apr. 30), “The letter adds to the growing evidence of a rift between [Barr and Mueller] and is another sign of the anger among the special counsel’s investigators about Mr. Barr’s characterization of their findings, which allowed Mr. Trump to wrongly claim he had been vindicated.
“It was unclear what specific objections Mr. Mueller raised in his letter, though a Justice Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday evening that he ‘expressed a frustration over the lack of context’ in Mr. Barr’s presentation of his findings on obstruction of justice. …
“The Justice Department received Mr. Mueller’s letter four days after Mr. Barr sent his conclusions to Congress. In response, the attorney general and the special counsel spoke on the phone, and Mr. Mueller laid out his concerns about the initial descriptions of the report. …
“Mr. Barr and senior Justice Department officials,” The Times continues, “were frustrated with how Mr. Mueller ended his investigation and drafted his report, according to the three people.
“They expressed irritation that Mr. Mueller fell short of his assignment by declining to make a decision about whether Mr. Trump broke the law. That left Mr. Barr to clear Mr. Trump without the special counsel’s backing.
“But Mr. Mueller did lay out evidence against the president. After explaining that he had declined to make a prosecutorial judgment, citing as a factor a Justice Department view that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, the special counsel detailed more than a dozen attempts by the president to impede the inquiry. He also left open the door for charges after Mr. Trump leaves office.”
Notwithstanding the attorney general’s “irritation,” Barr clearly misled the public on the report’s conclusions on obstruction, and concluded himself that Trump did not obstruct justice. His decision-making on this point runs contrary to what Mueller states in his report, namely that “Congress Has Power to Protect Congressional, Grand Jury, and Judicial Proceedings Against Corrupt Acts from Any Source.” [Page 176]
Regardless of where you stand on the report, the fact that Mueller’s March 27th letter has been hidden from the public for several weeks creates doubt in the minds of many as to the objectivity of this attorney general: does he work for the president or does he work for the American people?
Despite the political wrangling that is likely to take place, this Congress, regardless of party, needs to muster the moral integrity to step up and provide that check on the executive branch as the Constitution requires.
The only question is, will they?
I’ll return next week after completing political detox.