July 24th 2019
Today’s hearings had plenty of surreal moments. The one that stuck in my head was that of Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, who demanded to know as a former Prosecutor why Mueller spoke of exonerating Trump.
He was badgering Mueller, demanding to know where, in the remit of the Special Prosecutor, the Justice Department, the FBI or anywhere, existed the power to exonerate.
It could be argued that by saying he didn’t do something, Mueller was implying that he could do it. If Mueller had looked at the panel, and with a condescending smirk and an arched eyebrow, said, “I do not exonerate Donald Trump” then Turner might have a point. Then it would sound like Mueller could exonerate but just didn’t feel like it at that particular moment. But that’s not what happened.
Mueller merely stated in the report that it does not exonerate Trump. Mueller wasn’t claiming a nonexistent power to exonerate.
The report concluded, “The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
If Mueller had instead written, “The evidence doesn’t make the President a good guy,” would Ratcliffe (and several other Republican reps chanting the same song) be screaming that Mueller cannot claim that he can make the President a good guy when in fact Mueller is saying the report doesn’t make him look like a good guy?
This all sounds silly as hell, and it is, but it also grazes a salient point that is, in point of both fact and law, the heart of the reason the report, while it contains many smoking guns, wasn’t THE smoking gun.
The Department of Justice has a lunatic rule that a sitting President cannot be indicted for crimes committed while sitting as President. A sitting President can be sued for civil matters (Jones vs Clinton) but when it comes to criminal matters, he enjoys a weird, extra-constitutional diplomatic immunity from his own country.
If I had to guess, it was Republicans who pushed for this rule, because while they love to investigate Democrats for (usually imaginary) crimes it is Republican Presidents who tend to be the actual criminals and end up in for-reals legal trouble. So Republicans scrapped legal harassment of Democratic presidents in order to keep their own out of prison, and settled for endless congressional investigations—none of which needed any actual evidence of criminal behavior in order to proceed, an added bonus. Remember Benghazi? Eight congressional investigations, blowing well over $75 million, and even with corrupt Republicans running the show, couldn’t find evidence of any wrong doing, or even that a crime had occurred.
So from the get-go, Mueller know he could not indict Trump. Lacking the main element for his report, he had to feather the edges. With no power to indict, or even accuse, because Presidents are god-kings well above your stupid puny American laws, he instead listed the crimes (eleven dealing with obstruction of justice alone) and waited for a corrupt and cowardly Congress to do its job.
He must have felt quite lonely doing that.
Did he manage to drop the hint? Over a thousand federal prosecutors signed a letter stating that if they were presented with the evidence Mueller had in his report, and if it were anyone other than the godlike and invulnerable Lord of all the Americas, they would have handed down multiple felony indictments.
Of course, prosecutors have a job to do and understand how to do it. Congress merely needs to look like it’s anything other than the world’s richest landfill.
Impeachment is similar to indictment, in that it is a formal accusation of wrong-doing brought against someone. Where the job of prosecutors is a bit more difficult is that they have to show evidence a crime has been committed and link said crime to the accused. Congress merely needs to impeach for high crimes and misdemeanors. One Congress impeached a President for firing a member of his own cabinet; another, for being misleading about getting a blow job.
Impeachment is enough of a joke that even Congress can handle it. But these days, with a few exceptions, Congress is an even bigger joke, and we have to listen to screeds about the Loch Ness monster and howls that by claiming not to take a given action, a prosecutor is saying that he could do the action if he wanted, a farcical conclusion on the face of it.
Resolve to impeach Trump is growing, but not among the Faux News/GOP part of the country, who all share the Sean Hannity delirium dream.
Mueller faced a grueling pair of sessions, nearly eight hours of badgering and misrepresentation of himself and his former office. He turns 75 soon, and there were quite a few times when his age was evident, when he stammered and looked a bit lost. Of course the Republicans exploited this, zeroing in on queries that they knew he was enjoined from answering because they weren’t in the report or might cause damage to the country. Knowing Mueller to be hard of hearing, they played nasty little schoolboy games, either speaking so quickly, or far enough from the microphone, that Mueller was forced to ask them to “please repeat the question” over 150 times. Republicans remind us that all very young children are sociopaths. Same furtive sense of nastiness that makes them toss ladyfingers at the cat.
And of course, Mueller had to grapple with the biggest limitation of all: The simple declaration that evidence existed that Donald Trump committed multiple felonies and should be indicted. He isn’t allowed to say that. All he can do—all he could do—was present the facts to Congress, and let them decide.
And that had to be a very lonely feeling for Bob Mueller.