A dramatic exit speech from a reticent Mueller
Special counsel Robert Mueller broke a two-year public silence last week by clearly contradicting Attorney General William Barr and stating that his investigation had not cleared President Trump of possible criminal acts. He suggested that only Congress, through impeachment hearings, could resolve whether the 10 possible acts of obstruction of justice identified in his report amounted to crimes. In a 10-minute statement marking his official resignation, Mueller explained why charging Trump was “not an option” under Justice Department guidelines, noting that if his investigators believed President Trump did not commit a crime, “we would have said so.” Though Mueller implicitly acknowledged that only an impeachment inquiry would resolve the issues, he made it clear he did not want to testify before Congress, saying he has nothing to add to his report. “We chose those words carefully,” he said before declining to take reporters’ questions, “and the work speaks for itself.”
Democrats are still pushing to question Mueller, although House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said the Republican former FBI director “doesn’t want to participate in anything that he might regard as a political spectacle.” Trump and his allies reacted to Mueller’s muted statement with outrage. “I think Mueller is a true never-Trumper,” the president said, adding that the special counsel’s office employed “some of the worst human beings on earth.” After tweeting, “I had nothing to do with Russia helping to get me elected,” Trump amended that, saying, “I got me elected. Russia didn’t help me at all.”
What the columnists said
“Mueller went out like a lamb,” said David Ignatius in The Washington Post, “when the country needed a lion.” Determined to appear apolitical, Mueller was “maddeningly indirect—almost deliberately obtuse.” He refused to directly counter Barr’s spin about why the report punted on a prosecutorial judgment. He could have said, “The special counsel’s evidence should be referred to the House,” or cited his finding that Trump’s obstruction efforts failed only because his aides refused to go along with them. “Instead, he ducked it.”
Trump “goads everyone appalled by him to violate norms,” said Rich Lowry in NationalReview.com. What was the point of this farewell speech but to inappropriately “influence the public debate”? Casting aside neutrality, Mueller also “ditched the presumption of innocence.” In doing so, he reiterated the “gobsmacking” claim that he hadn’t found conclusive evidence of Trump’s innocence. Imagine how the American Civil Liberties Union would react if this “extraconstitutional legal standard” had been applied to anyone else.
All Mueller did was summarize his conclusions, and conservatives “erupted in outrage,” said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. Apparently they had “failed to read the report,” which detailed page after page of Trump’s “Nixonian-scale obstruction of justice in office.” Mueller is following Justice Department guidelines as strictly as possible, “sending his evidence to Congress without prejudice” so that it can determine if crimes were committed. Yet some are choosing to believe Trump’s “slavishly loyal attorney general,” insisting “it must be Mueller who is lying about the Mueller report.” ■