The Report: Part XV: Mueller's Report
November 12, 2019 6:51 AM - Subscribe
It's Friday, March 22, 2019. It's been nearly two years since Robert Mueller was first appointed Special Counsel. Now, he's ready to submit a final report to the Attorney General. He has uncovered a sprawling and systematic effort by Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. And he's developed a mountain of evidence about the president's efforts to obstruct his investigation, things like witness tampering, ordering the creation of false records, and trying to fire Mueller himself. But Mueller's got a problem: a Department of Justice memo says he can't indict a sitting president. So what is he supposed to do with all this evidence? Mueller decides to just lay it all in the report, all 448 pages of it. It'll be someone else's problem to decide what to do about it: maybe a future prosecutor, maybe Congress, maybe the America electorate. That isn't really Mueller's concern. He's done what he was asked to do. Now his report can speak for itself.
This episode explains how Mueller dealt with a series of legal and evidentiary challenges after he had completed the investigation. If there was no underlying crime, could the president have obstructed justice? Obstruction usually happens behind closed doors, but what if the president interferes with the investigation in plain view? How can you establish the president’s intent if Trump refused to sit for an interview with investigators? Is it even possible for a president's behavior to qualify as obstruction? Mueller successfully navigated these questions but struggled to deal with two obstacles from within his own agency, the Department of Justice. The special counsel felt bound by an Office of Legal Counsel opinion barring indictment of a sitting president. And Attorney General Bill Barr pre-empted the release of Mueller's report by issuing his own summary, filled with misleading generalizations about the special counsel’s conclusions. Mueller goes to testify before Congress a few months later, but he never strays from his laconic injunction: the report speaks for itself. Although Mueller’s work is done, the story is far from over. It’s up to Congress and to Americans everywhere to decide: is this all ok?