The best is enemy of the good.
The profoundest truths are paradoxical.
Thursday, July 25, 2019
"Mueller's Failure," David Leonhardt, The New York Times
David Leonhardt, The New York Times
I can’t escape the feeling that Robert Mueller ultimately failed to do his job.
Yes, he conducted a thorough, fair investigation of President Trump and Trump’s 2016 campaign. But when that investigation was over, Mueller ducked the tough decisions. He refused to clear Trump in the areas where no evidence implicated him in a crime, and Mueller refused to conclude that Trump had broken the law when the evidence clearly indicated he had.
Instead, Mueller tossed the hard decisions to Congress — a Congress rived by partisanship, where fact-based, widely accepted conclusions are all but impossible.
I imagine that Mueller may not mind the criticism he has received since issuing his report. It has come from both the political left and right, which can make his critics appear partisan and him appear interested only in the truth. Unfortunately, he didn’t help the American people get nearly as close to the truth as he could have.
A better way
Based on his report and testimony, I think he should have said that he found no evidence of several of the accusations that Trump’s critics have made: that Russia has salacious compromising material on him; that an aide held a secret meeting in Prague; that Trump was a Russian intelligence asset.
At the same time, Mueller should have stated that the evidence strongly suggested that Trump committed obstruction of justice and campaign finance crimes. Because Justice Department policy holds that sitting presidents can’t be indicted, Mueller could have explained that the right place to hear these cases was Congress. In the congressional proceeding, Trump could have defended himself, and the members could have made a decision about his guilt and the appropriate sanction, if any.
That approach would have been consistent with Mueller’s role as a prosecutor in this case. It would have been fair to Trump, and it would have been fair to the country.
Mueller chose an easier path, though.
David French, National Review: “At this point it seems abundantly clear that Mueller did not bring any further charges regarding Russian interference because there was insufficient evidence of such crimes. It’s just as clear that he didn’t bring obstruction charges because of the OLC opinion [holding that presidents can’t be indicted] only. It’s now quite possible that the OLC opinion has saved the president from two indictments — one in the SDNY for his role in the Stormy Daniel payoffs and the other from the SC’s office.”
Ronald Brownstein, The Atlantic: “Mueller has displayed a crimped understanding of his civic obligations. He has accepted essentially no responsibility for helping public understand his report, beyond the dense legalistic language in the document itself. … He could have made this more coherent & understandable for us. He explicitly chose not to.”
Mimi Rocah, former federal prosecutor: Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, “is really really good at this. Both in making statements that are succinct & impactful & also in questioning.”
Tom Nichols, Naval War College: “Schiff’s five minutes and Mueller’s answers would have been enough for Republicans to impeach and convict any other president before sundown today.”