Above: (Left) Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller; US President Donald Trump
The secrecy around the 21-month investigation into President Donald Trump’s collusion with Russians in the rigging of the 2016 election is surprising and dismaying
By Kenneth Tiven in Washington
Everyone’s complicating the #MuellerReport.
Look, it’s VERY simple.
If it exonerated @realDonaldTrump, he’d have tweeted a link to it & insisted the Times publish it in full.
Since he’s hiding it/desperately wants to keep you from reading it, it means he’s guilty.#QED
— This tweet said it all regarding the Mueller report
As Soothsayer told the family of a very famous man that the tea leaves indicated that the health of the individual was terrible. The family asked: “May we see the tea leaves?” Not now, they were told. Maybe someday.
That is the situation in America with Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s 21-month probe of President Donald Trump on the matter of collusion with Russians in the rigging of the 2016 US election as well as obstruction of justice.
The tea leaves, in this case the Mueller report, are secret. Instead, two Trump appointees in the Justice Department reviewed it to write a four-page summary, pronouncing that no collusion and no evidence of obstruction of justice can be charged. Yet, specifically, no exoneration of the president is possible, wrote Mueller.
Attorney General William Barr, recently appointed by Trump, and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, are the only senior officials known to have read Mueller’s report. Trump had his own lawyer read him Barr’s letter and he promptly went out and told journalists: “Complete exoneration.”
Why Mueller declined to make a charging decision on the president’s obstruction and instead outsourced that decision to Barr and Rosenstein puzzled many experienced attorneys. What we can say with certainty is that journalists writing about this story have not seen the full report nor have members of Congress from either political party, at least not officially.
Mueller, famously careful in his work as FBI director earlier in his long distinguished career, has said nothing following Barr’s equivalent of a “Cliff Notes” study guide to a larger literary work. House Democrats with subpoena power want him to testify about what he wrote.
The entire House of Representatives voted 420-0 to see the full report and wants it now. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer pointedly wrote: “Given Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report. For the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility. Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents.”
There had been much concern about Barr’s legal mindset when appointed a few months ago as attorney general to replace the fired Jeff Sessions. He wrote publicly last year that the special prosecutor’s appointment was improper. As President George Bush’s attorney general, Barr had recommended pardons for six Reagan Administration officials jailed for their part in secretly selling weapons in the Iran-Contra scandal in the 1980s.
John Dean, former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon, who famously helped the government force Nixon to resign or be impeached in 1974, warned that Barr may be hiding something. Dean said: “Having re-read William Barr’s 2018 Memo critiquing Mueller’s investigation and now his summary of Mueller’s Report, it is clear that Richard Nixon would not have been forced to resign his office if Barr had been Attorney General. Barr wants a POTUS above the law.”
While Mueller did not exonerate Trump of obstruction allegations, Barr said he and Rosenstein had together concluded there was not sufficient evidence to make that accusation against the president. But Dean found Barr’s conclusion and the phrasing curious.
“He put a little lipstick on something that might’ve been fairly ugly. We haven’t really seen the underlying report, but I have some suspicions that the reason he boiled this down the way he did is because it’s not very attractive. (Mueller’s) words are very different than Barr’s, I suspect.”
The Trump Administration now uses its interpretation of the Mueller report to claim victimisation by media and forces that oppose him. On the other side, many people believe Trump obstructed justice in open view, from the White House and on social media, and that Democrats didn’t more publicly hold him accountable.
The legal microscope continues with more than a dozen other investigations and lawsuits looking into the president, his businesses, his family and his associates.
- The most prominent case is managed by the US Attorney’s Office in Washington against Trump confidant Roger Stone. He is charged with witness-tampering and lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks.
- Justice Department lawyers in the Southern District of New York remain focused on payments that lawyer Michael Cohen made on Trump’s behalf to women with whom he allegedly had affairs. Cohen is about to start a three-year prison term for campaign and finance violations.
- Federal prosecutors in multiple offices have been looking into the record $107 million that Trump’s inauguration committee raised and are asking questions about how it was spent.
- Prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are looking into potential donation wrongdoing related to a pro-Trump super PAC called Rebuilding America.
- The New York Department of Financial Services sent a subpoena to Aon, the Trump Organisation’s longtime insurance broker, principally related to how properties were valued.
- The New York attorney general is curious how several Trump Organisation projects, including an attempt to buy the Buffalo Bills football team, received massive loans from Deutsche Bank.
- Trump Foundation was sued in New York state for a “shocking pattern of illegality”. The Trumps agreed to dissolve the Foundation in December, but the lawsuit is still going on.
- The New York state tax department is looking into allegations of decades of property “tax schemes”. New York City officials have also said they are examining Trump’s tax history.
- Federal and state investigators are looking into allegations that the Trump golf club hired illegal immigrant workers.
- There is a lawsuit involving a prohibition on personally profiting from his position as president.
- A lawsuit by former lawyer Cohen for legal fees; he claims he is owed $1.9 million.
- Summer Zervos defamation suit against Trump for calling her a liar when the Apprentice contestant claimed he had sexually assaulted her.
While it has triggered an industrial scale of legal work, by itself Mueller’s investigation resulted in 199 criminal charges, 37 indictments or guilty pleas and five prison sentences. The probe’s incredible secrecy seemed to raise expectations. However, to verify or disprove the material in the Steele dossier and the apparent Russian linkage and coordination was precluded within the time available.
— The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels