This is the era of FBI directors leaving us hot messes in their wake.
Who could forget James Comey’s July 2016 press conference? That’s when he said he wouldn’t indict Hillary Clinton on the server/email issue, but in doing so leveled searing criticism of how she had conducted sensitive affairs.
Then came the late October surprise whopper when Comey announced a rekindled investigation of Clinton after finding her emails on Anthony Weiner’s horndogging computer. That created the upset atmosphere that led to President Donald John Trump. What Comey didn’t mention was that the FBI was conducting a counter intelligence probe into the Trump campaign.
That brings us to this past week, when former FBI director and Special Counsel Robert Mueller appeared from behind the curtains. His 9-minute statement created a new sensation when he refused to absolve President Trump of obstruction of justice. “We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime,” Mueller stoically said. Due to DOJ rules (but not the Constitution), “Charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider. If we had confidence the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
Some 325 million Americans aren’t above the law, but one is.
The statement flies in the face of President Trump and congressional Republicans that his 440-page report released in mid-April “exonerated” the president of obstruction of justice. “It would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no resolution of the charge,” Mueller said. “So we concluded we would not reach a determination one way or the other.”
Essentially, what Mueller did was to take this hot mess and toss it into the lap of Congress, the most politically polarized and dysfunctional branch of the federal government (the Trump White House is a close second).
It rekindled talk of the “political” rectification of Trump’s untoward behavior, though in Mueller’s findings it did not rise to the level of collusion and conspiracy. His report details some 140 contacts between Russian assets, trolls, Putin chefs, and a dozen intelligence officers of the Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation who were indicted just hours after Trump’s Helsinki BFF session with President Putin.
As some of you who have read the Mueller report or its summaries (sans, it appears, the incurious and supplicant Indiana congressional delegation), the other untoward aspect of Trump and his administration, campaign and political minions, were the 10 specific cases that portend to at least the illusion of obstruction outlined in Section II.
This has reignited the impeachment virus among about 40 House Democrats and one Republican (Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan). Speaker Nancy Pelosi has taken the impeachment inoculation, as Trump goads her freshman class into the ultimate dare. She calls impeachment a “fool’s errand.” Impeachment has zero chance for conviction in the U.S. Senate, where majority Republicans have fully bought in to the Trumpian cult of personality, the fears of his strident Twitter revenge, and publicly lap up his mysterious Kool-Aid.
The Comey/Mueller dynamic is troubling on two counts.
First, Mueller cites this DOJ rule that a sitting president cannot be indicted, not even a sealed indictment that can be opened once he exits office. Judge Andrew Napolitano, the Fox News analyst, says the DOJ rule is “up for interpretation,” calling the guidelines “advisory only, not mandatory.”
The second Comey/Mueller sin comes under the category of prosecutorial misconduct. Issues & Insights Tom McArdle observes “that in the United States, we don’t let prosecutors publicly blemish the reputations of law-abiding citizens for actions that fall short of criminality. At least we didn’t until special counsel Robert Mueller.”
McArdle writes that a prosecutor’s job “is — or at least used to be — to charge or not charge, not choose this or that shade of gray. Mueller compounds this error with an equally nonsensical claim that he’s somehow protecting Trump.”
The Issues & Insight editorial board writes further: “What Mueller has done is worse. He’s left the public with the impression that Trump is — nudge, nudge, wink, wink — guilty of something, even if Mueller can’t say what exactly it is. And in doing so, he’s laying the groundwork for Democrats to impeach Trump, without ever having to actually accuse Trump of anything. How exactly is that fair?”
Washington Post editor and author Bob Woodward described the difference between this Trumpian saga and President Nixon’s legal exposure during Watergate. When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July 1974 that White House recordings be released, Congress and the American public heard Nixon try to obstruct justice with their own ears. “Does somebody come up with tapes or new evidence?” Woodward asks. “I think that would be the propellant here.”
Paging Billy Bush.
What we have here is another Beltway fiasco. There are no winners or heroes here.
Donald Trump and his campaign were open to help from an American enemy hellbent on discrediting the cornerstone of our republic, which is the election process, with the peaceful transition of power potentially at stake. It was an undisciplined do-anything-to-win modus operandi, falling short of conspiracy. Congressional tribalism rules. FBI directors and special counsels have and are making troubling judgment calls.
The American people will have to sort out this sorry mess in November 2020.
Brian A. Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at www.howeypolitics.com. Find Howey on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.