Mueller faced a legal, not a factual, dilemma in charging Trump, to hear him tell it today. Per DOJ policy, he couldn’t formally accuse a sitting president of a crime by indicting him, a point he reiterated this morning. Informally he could have said something like, “We think there’s probable cause to believe a crime was committed here but we’re not legally allowed to file charges,” but Mueller reasoned that that would have been unfair. It would have left Trump with no official forum, i.e. a courtroom, in which to rebut the charges against him. (Try to ignore the absurdity of publishing a several-hundred-page report detailing Trump’s alleged misconduct and then worrying that it’d be unfair to accuse him of anything.)
So not only couldn’t Mueller formally accuse Trump, he couldn’t informally accuse him. How do you accuse someone when you’re not allowed to accuse him? Well, you can try to do it indirectly. Which is why he made a point of emphasizing today — again — that “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Contrast that with his much firmer conclusion about collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, that “there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.” He’s telling us in his own roundabout way, according to his own strange rules of fairness in an investigation like this, that he’s not not accusing Trump of obstruction. The facts were there to support charges, arguably. The law simply didn’t allow it. When it comes to crimes committed by a sitting president, the tribunal with jurisdiction lies outside the executive branch.
Some members of that tribunal got the message:
Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately.
— Cory Booker (@CoryBooker) May 29, 2019
Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris drew the same conclusion, not coincidentally. Whereas other, more influential members who are terrified of the political consequences of a doomed impeachment effort are more resistant:
Speaker Pelosi statement following Special Counsel Mueller’s comments:
“The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy.” pic.twitter.com/IPA17ZB36y
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) May 29, 2019
No mention of impeachment by Madam Speaker, which is not surprising since Booker et al. and Pelosi are worried about different audiences. Booker’s worried about a presidential primary consisting of Democrats, more Democrats, and nothing but Democrats. Pelosi’s worried about next year’s general election and how her crop of freshmen from reddish-purple districts might fare if they’re forced to choke on a go-nowhere impeachment vote in the House. If you share her belief that trying and failing to remove Trump from office will do more to help Republican turnout than Democratic turnout then Mueller’s statement today was ironically a political boon to the GOP. First he (sort of) clears Trump on collusion, now he provides the White House with electoral fuel by deepening Pelosi’s political jam. He might end up as AG in Trump’s second term before this is all over!
Napolitano wasn’t the only Foxie who saw dark implications in Mueller’s statement this morning, by the way. Bret Baier was struck by how different Mueller’s account of his findings on obstruction was from Barr’s summary of those findings — although he shouldn’t have been since, as I say, all of this was already in the report. Expect some new presidential tweets soon touting OANN, though, if only to punish Fox for its “disloyalty.”