Independent counsel Robert Mueller finally faced the cameras Wednesday morning. In his quiet way, Mueller’s message could not be any louder: He couldn’t indict the president, but he suggested Congress should investigate the many instances of likely obstruction of justice by President Trump outlined in his 445-page report—and that Congress has the power to find a president guilty of “wrongdoing.”
Mueller came as close as possible to saying that he would have indicted Trump for obstruction of justice, if Justice Department policy allowed him to do so. “Charging the president with a crime was not an option we could consider,” he said. But then he delivered the most important information in his 10-minute statement: “If we had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not.”
Respected intelligence analyst Marcy Wheeler tweeted immediately: “Shorter Mueller: That was an impeachment referral, damnit, now act on it.” Presidential candidates Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren both used the same “impeachment referral” language. May all the 2020 Democrats join in, and soon.
Significantly, while Mueller made it clear he’d rather not testify before Congress, he did not say he would refuse to do so, if asked. “Any testimony would not go beyond our report. The work speaks for itself. I would not provide any information that is not in the report.”
While that might sound disappointing, it isn’t. Having Mueller delve into the details of a 445-page report (plus its footnotes) would be must-see TV. Just imagine Mueller being asked by the House Judiciary Committee to narrate the more shocking details of his investigation.
Here’s an example: Let Mueller run down his attempts to confirm whether and how President Trump ordered White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, and then to cover up the fact that he ordered McGahn to fire Mueller. I would also enjoy hearing him explain that he didn’t charge, say, Donald Trump Jr. or anyone else involved in that sketchy June 2016 meeting with Russian representatives at Trump Tower—the one where the Russians dangled dirt on Hillary Clinton, and young Don said via e-mail he “loved” the idea—apparently because it wasn’t clear poor dumb Donnie knew he might be breaking the law by taking such a meeting.
Mueller also scorched the notion that his report found “no collusion” between Trump and the Russians trying to help his campaign, as the president and his team repeatedly screech. The independent counsel said there was “insufficient evidence” to charge collusion, which is very different. I would also enjoy hearing Mueller tell Congress part of why they had “insufficient evidence”: that Steve Bannon, Rick Gates, and Erik Prince either erased or somehow “lost” e-mails, texts, Whatsapp conversations and other communications about their interactions with Russian officials during the campaign and the transition period, as his report reveals. #ButHerEmails.
It took me an hour to recognize this possibly interesting point: Mueller said: “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.” Not “If a subject…” Maybe that doesn’t matter. But… well, the word “if” was certainly available.
Mueller closed by making two very powerful points. For one, he thanked the lawyers and FBI agents who worked on his investigation, praising them for being “fair and independent” and for acting with “the highest integrity.” At a time when Attorney General William Barr—whom Mueller took pains not to criticize—wants to investigate these investigators, Mueller made a strong stand on behalf of their professionalism and decency.
Second, Mueller chose to end his statement with the finding the president apparently will not accept: “There were multiple, systematic attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.” He clearly doesn’t believe American leaders are taking that seriously enough, and I agree with him.
This is a bad day for Donald Trump. But it’s also a tough day for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and any other Democratic leader who is trying to slow-walk an impeachment inquiry. In the long relay of justice, Robert Mueller just handed you the baton. Run with it. Today.