Congress Must Subpoena Robert Mueller for Questioning
Friday, speaking to Jan Crawford of CBS This Morning in an interview, Attorney General William Barr had some pretty extraordinary things to say. In the interview, Barr indicated that Robert Mueller could have chosen to make a call on whether Trump had engaged in criminal activity regarding obstruction but chose not to do so. This surprised Barr and deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and forced them to make that call. In addition, Barr stated that "he [Mueller] also said that he could not say that the president clearly did not violate the law, which of course is not the standard we use at the department." This indicates that Mueller and his team inverted the standard of a prosecutor in the United States from innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent. Barr also stated that "we didn't agree with the legal analysis — a lot of the legal analysis in the report. It did not reflect the views of the department. It was the views of a particular lawyer or lawyers" and that the instances highlighted by Mueller in part two of his report were deficient in proving clear obstruction according to the law.
But the most extraordinary part of the interview was when Crawford asked Barr about his March 24 four-page summary. Barr indicated that the only reason he issued a summary instead of the full Mueller report is because "it was going to be a period of weeks before we could get the report out[.] ... I would have liked to get the report out as quickly as possible ... because I didn't think the body politic would allow us to go on radio silence for four weeks." He continued, "There was all kinds of wild speculation going on ... [by] former senior intelligence officials ... [and] talking heads."
Why would there be a period of several weeks before the Mueller report could be issued? Barr explained that he had asked Mueller's team prior to March 5 to highlight 6E grand jury material so the attorney general's office could issue the report within a week after conducting the proper redactions as required by law. But Mueller's team failed to do this and this surprised Barr because "we thought it was being done" and forced them to spend weeks identifying and redacting the 6E grand jury material, which constituted "one tenth of one percent of the report."
When Crawford asked Barr if, had Mueller properly highlighted the 6E material, his four-page summary would have been unnecessary, Barr replied in the affirmative. Barr stated, "If we could readily identify the 6E material, I thought we could do it in a, you know, less than a week[.] ... [O]nce I realized it was going to take 3 or 4 weeks, I felt I had to say something in the interim."
Crawford also asked Barr about how Mueller's press conference addressed the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted and about how this factored into Mueller finding that Trump had committed a crime. Barr responded to press confusion about the matter, stating that "the confusion arose because what Bob Mueller's position was was that the OLC opinion coupled with other things as a prudential matter made him feel that he shouldn't even get into the analysis of whether something was a crime[.] ... [H]e didn't get into the analysis at all. Part of the reason for that was his judgment about the OLC opinion coupled with other things he just didn't think it was proper exercise of his authority."
Crawford brought up the fact that the Mueller wrote a letter complaining about how Barr's summary was being received by the press and causing confusion. Barr responded that "I wasn't trying to provide all the flavor and nooks and crannies of the report. I was just trying to state the bottom line." He continued, "I was surprised he just didn't pick up the phone and call me given our 30 year relationship[.] ... I thought ... the letter was a little snitty and staff-driven."
To form a better picture of what is going on here, let us consider what we know about Mueller's team. We know that a significant portion of the lawyers Mueller hired are partisan on behalf of Democrats, particularly Andrew Wiessmann. We also know that Mueller originally had on his team disgraced former FBI agent and key Operation Crossfire Hurricane investigative abuse player Peter Strzok before deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe — not Mueller, as previously believed — removed him from the team on July 27, 2017, when Strzok's anti-Trump texts were discovered. Mueller's team consisted of multiple lawyers hostile to Trump, one of whom, Andrew Weismann, was known for his under-handed tactics.
Mueller didn't make a call on whether Trump committed a crime and instead threw the ball into Barr's and Rosenstein's court, leaving them subject to the punditry of a hostile press. Mueller was asked by Barr multiple times to highlight 6E grand jury material in his report and failed to do so, creating difficulties and a significant gap in time before Barr could release the report, during which time the press could speculate on it, certainly to the detriment of Trump. This media speculation scenario induced Barr to release a four-page summary, leading to the inevitable smearing of Barr as a cover-up artist by Democrats and the press's punditry class without so much as a word from Mueller expressing the summary's non-partisan accuracy. Instead of calling Barr over the phone about his concerns about Barr's four-page summary, Mueller's team wrote a "snitty" letter that somehow was magically leaked to the press complaining about how Barr's summary wasn't colored and shaded in such a way as to emphasize episodes of non-criminal obstruction — that is, a summary more damaging to Trump.
At the press conference, Mueller obfuscated his reasoning for not making a decision on whether Trump committed criminal activity by using muddied phraseology to mix in the OLC opinion on indicting a sitting president. The effect of this was to add impeachment chum to the shark-infested waters of a hostile press commentariat. Mueller at this press conference also inverted the standard of a prosecutor in the United States by stating, "If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so." This effectively changed the prosecutorial standard from innocent until proven guilty to guilty until proven innocent. Finally, in a less than subtle way, Mueller alluded to impeachment proceedings by referring to a constitutional remedy, though as a member of the Executive Branch, this was going out of his way to discuss.
This may lead us to conclude certain things about Mueller and the way he has handled the investigation into Trump-Russia collusion. We may reasonably conclude that much of the effort by Mueller's team has been a series of partisan, unprofessional political tactics to damage Trump as much as possible. Team Mueller's leaks, tactics, and other conduct during the investigation, such as a possible strategic delay on the report's release to allow Democrats to gain control over the House during the mid-term elections, must be scrutinized. Considering that House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler immediately ran to the cameras to use Mueller's press conference as leverage for impeachment proceedings, we should anticipate he has no intention of dragging Mueller in for questioning. It falls to Lindsey Graham in the Senate to question Mueller and question him thoroughly. Get to it, Senator.
Follow Anthony Galka on Twitter at @Shmagagie_U.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore.