You sure it’s not the ratings?

Something fun here via Newsbusters. You can grumble if you like about Camerota showing her bias on a “news” program, but it’s CNN and the subject is Trump and the Mueller investigation. The network’s personnel have been showing their cards on this subject for ages. Besides, amid all the shouting about Bill Barr, it’s refreshing to see someone on the air look past that and cut to the core of the outrage: Their anger at Barr is mostly just an outlet for their disappointment in Mueller. There’s reason to disdain the AG’s performance but the outsized outrage at him is obviously being driven by the deeper disappointment of Trump walking free. There’s nepotism and Emoluments Clause issues and all sorts of evidence of obstruction, says Camerota (she conveniently omits collusion with Russia, ostensibly the key question of the Russiagate probe), and yet there’s no accountability. True — because Mueller declined to accuse Trump of any of it or to overtly refer those matters to Congress for impeachment consideration. Mueller broke her spirit, not Barr.

The more I think about it, the weaker Mueller’s reasoning for not stating an opinion on obstruction in the report seems to me. His argument was that it’d be unfair to Trump to formally accuse him of a crime knowing that DOJ policy prevents the president from being indicted. How can we cast a shadow of criminality over the president, Mueller wondered, when we can’t offer him a public forum like a trial to clear his name and challenge the evidence against him? But (a) if Mueller had formally accused Trump of obstruction it probably would have compelled Democrats to impeach him, and the impeachment trial would have provided Trump with a forum. (Even better than a courtroom trial, actually, since the “jury” in the Senate would have been stacked with Republican politicians.) And (b) even without an impeachment trial, the most famous and powerful man in the world has endless public forums available to him which he could have used to challenge the evidence. He would have been deprived of an adversarial process involving Mueller and his prosecutors but he could have answered the charges with as many interviews as he liked, published a report prepared by his own lawyers addressing the obstruction claims point by point, hired friendly outside legal experts to act as surrogates in his defense on television, on and on. His legal team already sent a letter to Barr, in fact, attacking the process and claiming that Mueller shouldn’t have publicized evidence which he knew could never lead to conviction in court beyond a reasonable doubt.

Point being, Mueller’s right that it would have been unfair to accuse *an average person* of a crime without bringing him to trial since he’d lack the same opportunities as Trump to clear himself, but the president’s not an average person. If he can be treated differently for prosecution purposes — i.e. he’s unindictable — he can be treated different for defense purposes. The real reason Mueller punted on obstruction, I think, is because he was reluctant to pull a mega-Comey by making a decision that might influence who becomes president. Twice in 2016 Comey inserted himself into the presidential election, possibly ruining Hillary’s chances. If Mueller were to formally accuse Trump of obstruction, Dems might feel forced to impeach and the consequences of that would be unpredictable. Trump might be so weakened and humiliated by it that he ends up losing next fall even though the Senate voted against removal. Or Republican voters might be so outraged by impeachment that they end up driving a backlash that sweeps Trump to victory. Mueller decided he wanted no part of that so he reserved judgment on obstruction and let Congress — or Bill Barr — decide instead.

Meanwhile, leave it to Trump to flout the one core finding in the report that confirmed serious wrongdoing in Russiagate:

Russia did hack the DNC and John Podesta, Mueller concluded. More than two dozen Russians were indicted in connection with that. Trump spoke directly to the mastermind of that operation today and apparently all he had to say, per Sarah Sanders, was “essentially in the context that it’s over, and there was no collusion.” Trump’s own description of it in his tweet, the “Russia hoax,” makes it sound like he’s spinning for Putin even now. To repeat a point made yesterday, some of the public’s suspicions about collusion might have been less intense if Trump hadn’t spent the past three years appearing completely unperturbed by a foreign country committing crimes against Americans so long as those Americans happened to be his own political enemies.