March 25, 2019
It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over: What’s Next for the Mueller Report
Senior Fellow, Brennan Center for Justice and Distinguished Visitor from Practice, Georgetown University Law Center
During William Barr’s confirmation hearing, numerous concerns were raised about his, ah, unorthodox views of presidential power. Past writings from now-Attorney General Barr indicated his deep skepticism about the legitimacy of the Russia investigation overall and, of greater concern, his apparent assertion that a president could not obstruct justice, given the president’s role as the nation’s chief law enforcement officer.
Now that we’ve gone from a Mueller report that “does not exonerate” the president to Barr’s assertion that the President did not do anything that rose to the level of obstruction, those concerns seem eerily prescient and point to the need for some additional steps to be taken before President Trump’s victory dance will truly be justified.
First and foremost, the American people deserve to see Robert Mueller’s full report. It may be that the report says exactly what Attorney General Barr claims, but we won’t know that if it never sees the light of day. And since the president is convinced the report proves him innocent, he should have no problem with its release. Any hesitancy here from the President or his allies is an indication that there is more to this story than what we’ve gotten from Barr so far.
Second, Mr. Barr should explain his thinking in making the assertions he did about collusion and obstruction. GOP members of Congress extolled Mr. Barr’s integrity during his confirmation hearings; surely, they don’t fear a full public airing of his rationale for making the judgments he made. A trip to Capitol Hill to walk us through his thought process would be in everyone’s best interest, including Mr. Trump’s.
Third, it would be very interesting to hear if Mr. Mueller agrees with Mr. Barr’s characterization of his report. Mr. Trump spent two years trashing Mueller only to smilingly accept his conclusions once they fell in his favor. It would stand to reason that the President should have no problem with the man who proved his “innocence” giving us all a more detailed airing of how he did so. A trip to Capitol Hill for Mr. Mueller would also seem to make sense.
Fourth, whether it comes from Mr. Barr, Mr. Mueller or both, we need an explanation of why there was so much smoke if indeed there was no fire. A lot of Trump compatriots are in jail or headed that way as a result of this “witch hunt”, having been caught lying to law enforcement about their interactions with the Russians. People lie to law enforcement to cover up crimes. If all this was on the up-and-up, why all the lies?
Lastly, despite Mr. Mueller’s reputation for integrity and thoroughness, many questions remain on this issue. The President’s relationship with Vladimir Putin has had everyone scratching their heads from Day One, with numerous examples of the president bending over backward to excuse Russian misdeeds. He has also taken great pains to let Russia explain away law enforcement findings that they interfered with the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. These efforts have often devolved into the absurd. Why? Does Russia have something it is holding over the president’s head? Do the president’s past, present, or future business dealings with Russia factor into this?
Then there is the obstruction of justice question. Mueller apparently did find evidence the president obstructed justice, Mr. Barr just didn’t think that evidence rose to the level of a crime. What was that evidence? What was the standard of proof Barr employed? Would someone who did not share Barr’s creative views about presidential obstruction of justice feel differently than he did? Either way, Congress needs to continue its investigations into these important matters. The Mueller report is a piece to the puzzle, but it’s not the final piece.
After the GOP investigated the Benghazi tragedy and was unable to lay blame at Hillary Clinton’s feet, they launched a second investigation, then a third until, all told, eight congressional committees had examined the issue. The non-scandal of Hillary Clinton’s email habits was similarly investigated ad nauseam by multiple committees. And though interest in those investigations not-so-bizarrely disappeared after Trump’s victory in 2016, surely those same intrepid investigators can see the value in asking a few more questions about something as consequential as a foreign government’s attempt to corrupt our democracy.
Attorney General Barr may be 100% right about what the Mueller report says, and we may indeed be able to put this all behind us, but we don’t know that yet. And until we do, any victory dance by the President or his allies would seem to be premature.