Report: Mueller's own office was divided on law and facts in obstruction case against Trump

An important revelation. Theories have been kicked around since Barr released his summary of the report to explain Mueller’s bizarre refusal to reach a conclusion on the obstruction matter. Was he signaling that he’d defer to Democratic impeachment managers in the House on that? Did he *want* to accuse Trump but felt obliged not to because of the DOJ’s policy against indicting a sitting president? Was he somehow bigfooted by Bill Barr, who insisted on making the call on obstruction himself?

Nah. Per NBC, Team Mueller was itself split on whether probable cause existed to believe Trump had committed obstruction. Clearly, POTUS hasn’t been “totally exonerated” if some lawyers in Mueller’s own office thought he broke the law. But this also means it wasn’t Barr or Trump or any other nefarious outside influence that “forced” Mueller to punt on the obstruction case. There were, it seems, people inside his own operation who were intimately familiar with the case on obstruction yet who came away believing that either the evidence or the legal grounds were insufficient to support a charge.

The lawyers and FBI agents on Mueller’s team could not reach an agreement about whether Trump’s conduct amounted to a corrupt — and therefore illegal — effort to impede the probe, the three officials said…

At least one faction within the office says their intent was to leave the legal question open for Congress and the public to examine the evidence, the U.S. official who has spoken to them said. It’s not clear how Mueller himself feels about the matter…

The DOJ policy that says a sitting president can’t be charged with a crime wasn’t a factor in the dispute within Mueller’s team, according to one senior U.S. official in a position to know. Rather, lawyers disagreed about whether they could prove that Trump had criminal intent as he took a variety of actions that seemed designed to shut down the investigation, from firing FBI Director James Comey, to ordering the dismissal of Mueller, only to back off when his White House counsel threatened to quit, according to The New York Times and not confirmed by NBC News.

An official in contact with members of Mueller’s team told NBC that “the evidence on obstruction is compelling and said it includes more information than has been made public,” further proof in case more was needed that the White House really should worry about what’s coming in that section of Mueller’s report. I continue not to understand, though, how obstruction might lie in a case against someone who had the power to shut down the investigation but never actually exercised it, despite sporadic eruptions on Twitter and occasional official action like firing Comey. Obstruction would make sense to me if Trump was caught trying to tamper with witnesses or other evidence — that is, to obstruct the accuracy of the investigation’s findings. If Mueller has evidence of that, I can’t imagine why POTUS wouldn’t be formally accused. But charging him with obstruction for allegedly impeding a probe that was … ultimately completed, by a basically independent special counsel no less? When the underlying suspicions of conspiracy with Russia were never actually confirmed?

That’s a reach, especially from a political standpoint. You’re not going to convince, say, 70 percent of the public that impeachment is warranted for an offense which even some of Mueller’s own lawyers thought wasn’t an offense.

Speaking of the suspicions of conspiracy with Russia not being borne out, NBC has new details on that too: “While Mueller found no coordination or criminal conspiracy, the official said, some team members say his findings paint a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation.” I suppose “clueless dupes of Moscow” is better than “willing co-conspirators with Moscow,” especially since it’s already baked in the political cake to some extent. Go figure that an administration led by a guy who’s repeatedly questioned his own intel bureau’s findings about Russian hacking in 2016 on the word of Vladimir Putin might be prone to Russian manipulation.