Posts tagged with "Collusion?"

Mueller muddles through Judiciary Committee testimony

July 25, 2019

In more than three hours of testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday morning, July 24, former Special Counsel Robert Mueller refused to answer many questions, saying they were outside his purview; responded to others with only a “yes” or a “no;” refrained from reading relevant portions of his own report—and did not add any personal color to the story line on the president’s efforts to obstruct the investigation.

Overall, his performance did not deliver the dramatic narrative, or the television moment, that Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-New York) and his Democratic committee members had hoped would captivate the American audience.

However, the former special counsel did clarify a number of points—putting the kibosh on the president’s constant claims of “TOTAL EXONERATON. NO COLLUSION.”

Director Mueller,” Nadler asked, “the president has repeatedly claimed that your report found there was no obstruction and that it completely and totally exonerated him, but that is not what your report said, is it?”

“Correct,” Mueller replied. “That is not what the report said.”

“So the report did not conclude that he did not commit obstruction of justice, is that correct?” Nadler asked.

“That is correct,” Mueller replied.

“And what about total exoneration? Did you totally exonerate the president?” Nadler continued.

“No,” Mueller said.

“Does your report state there is sufficient factual and legal basis for further investigation of potential obstruction of justice by the president?” Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) later inquired.

“Yes,” Mueller replied.

What’s more, in a line of questioning by Representative Ted Lieu (D-California), the legislator got Mueller to agree that the reason he did not indict Trump for obstruction was that he deferred to the opinion of the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

When asked, Mueller also confirmed that Russia was working on Donald Trump’s behalf during the 2020 presidential campaign.

“Did your investigation find that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from one of the candidates winning?” Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California) entreated him.

“It did,”Mueller replied.

Lofgren then asked for specificity: “Which one?”

“Well,” Mueller said, “it would be Trump.”

In fact, Mueller went on to say, “During the course of my career I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy”—and noted that the Russian interference into the 2020 elections was “the worst.”

Finally, as Republicans tried to make points, frequently shouting, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) attempted to establish that Mueller had been “conflicted” in carrying out the investigation because he had interviewed with Trump the day before for the position of FBI director.

 “Not as a candidate,” Mueller replied. He noted that he met with Trump on May 16, 2017, to discuss the then-vacant FBI director position, a position that he once had held— but not because he was a candidate for the job. He said he merely outlined what it would take to do the job.

Indeed, as The Washington Post’s Devlin Barrett tweeted, Mueller is barred by law from holding the FBI director position again. Barrett’s sources did say that White House staffers raised the possibility of changing that law, but that doesn’t comport with Trump’s presentation of Mueller as having gotten “turned down” in seeking the position.

Mueller was due to appear before the House Intelligence Committee during the afternoon session—where hopes that he would tell a colorful narrative on Russian interference that would shift public opinion still were high.

Research contact: @HouseJudiciary

‘There’s nothing routine about this’: Barr moves to send Mueller’s report to Trump

March 29, 2019

More than three in four Americans (77%), including majorities of both Republicans and Democrats, think that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full report should be released to the public, based on findings of a survey conducted by CBS News and released on March 28.

However, after summarizing the 300-plus-page report in fewer than 1,000 words and coming to his own conclusion on obstruction of justice charges, Attorney General William Barr now has said he intends to hand the document over to the president—instead of to Congress and the American public.

Indeed, according to a story by Business Insider, Barr is taking the peculiar and unheard of step of giving precedence to the sitting president to review and redact a document summarizing an investigation into his own administration’s culpability in Russian interference into the U.S. elections and obstruction of justice.

Typically, the news outlet notes, when the government obtains information that can be protected under presidential privilege claims, it sets up a separate filter team to separate out that information before prosecutors see it. Justice Department veterans said they were surprised Barr chose to forego that option and send the report directly to the White House.

Over a dozen current and former White House officials have given testimony and turned over documents to Mueller, and legal scholars say President Donald Trump’s team could theoretically assert executive privilege over all that information.

The dilemma could put Barr in a difficult position, one former federal prosecutor pointed out to the news outlet: “Say Barr sends this report to the White House and tells them to pull out anything they think is privileged. What if the White House sent back one-third of the report and redacted the rest? What does Barr do with that? Does he just accept it and only release the parts that weren’t redacted, or if he feels like the White House is wrong or abusing their power, does he challenge them?”

“There’s nothing routine about this,” Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who worked at the Justice Department when Barr was acting attorney general in the 1990s, told Business Insider. “There’s nowhere to look for a precedent to what Barr’s planning on doing here, because there’s never been a report issued under the special counsel statute Mueller’s operating under.”

“I’m not sure why Barr felt this was the appropriate way to go about handling potentially privileged information,” Cotter said, adding, “You shouldn’t be able to use it in a way that gives you an unfair advantage,” Cotter said.

Research contact: @businessinsider

Mueller to convey key findings of Russia probe after midterms

October 18, 2018

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is expected to divulge key findings of his team’s 18-month-long Russia probe soon after the November midterm elections.

The news comes as Mueller faces mounting pressure, either to produce more indictments or shut down his investigation, according to Bloomberg sources, the business news outlet reported on October 17.

Specifically, two U.S. officials told Bloomberg, Mueller is close to rendering judgment on a couple of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry:

  • Were there clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign?
  • Did the president take any actions that constituted obstruction of justice?

That doesn’t necessarily mean, Bloomberg said, that Mueller’s findings would be made public if he doesn’t secure unsealed indictments. The regulations governing Mueller’s probe stipulate that he can present his findings only to his boss, who is currently Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The regulations give the special counsel’s supervisor some discretion in deciding what is relayed to Congress and what is publicly released.

The question of timing is critical. Mueller’s work won’t be concluded ahead of the November 6 midterm elections—and, with just three weeks to go, it is unlikely that Mueller will take any overt action that could be turned into a campaign issue. Justice Department guidelines say prosecutors should avoid any major steps close to an election that could be interpreted as influencing the outcome.

Also complicating the release of findings is the fact that Mueller only recently submitted written questions to Trump’s lawyers regarding potential collusion with Russia—and his team hasn’t yet ruled out seeking an interview with the president, according to one of the U.S. officials.

What’s more, the news outlet reported, this timeline raises questions about the future of the probe, itself. Trump has signaled repeatedly that he hopes to replace Attorney General Jeff Sessions after the election—a move that could bring in a new boss for Mueller or put the entire inquiry in jeopardy.

Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible, another U.S. official said. The officials gave no indications about the details of Mueller’s conclusions. Mueller’s office declined to comment for the Bloomberg story.

Research contact: @cstrohm