Did Robert Mueller tell Congress to impeach Donald Trump? A number of observers heard that message from the special counsel’s public statement this morning, including ABC’s Terry Moran. If you read between the lines, Moran tells George Stephanopoulos, you can make out this coded message — I-M-P-E-A-C-H:
.@TerryMoran on special counsel Robert Mueller's statement: "This was actually a sharper edge than the report…This is Robert Mueller saying to Congress: do your job." https://t.co/gbjejBorhT pic.twitter.com/1lnQDQnkG5
— ABC News (@ABC) May 29, 2019
That’s not an unfair reading of Mueller’s statement, and perhaps especially his emphasis on Department of Justice protocols as the reason for not reaching conclusions. The passage to which Moran refers sounds a little more academic than didactic, though:
First, the opinion explicitly explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting president because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could be charged now.
And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.
And beyond department policy, we were guided by principles of fairness. It would be unfair to potentially — it would be unfair to potentially accuse somebody of a crime when there can be no court resolution of the actual charge.
Mueller’s team did charge a handful of people with obstruction or similar charges. It’s worth noting, though, that those indictments had no references to potentially obstructive conduct by Trump. There were no unindicted co-conspirators in the charges against George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, or Roger Stone that corresponded to Trump at all, nor even a hint that Trump was involved in those obstructive acts. Only two of the potentially obstructive acts described in Volume II would have been Trump acting alone — the firing of James Comey, preceded by a suggestive comment regarding Mike Flynn. In both cases, it would require establishing a corrupt intent, which the report discusses at length even if Mueller ignored that issue in his statement.
That omission certainly sounds purposeful, and it’s getting the reaction that Moran predicts. House Judiciary chair Jerrold Nadler released a statement that pledged to respond to “the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump.” However, Nadler’s statement had its own curious lacuna:
“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump – and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law,” House Judiciary Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
As long as we’re parsing non-barking dogs, Steven Dennis notes another quiet canine in Nadler’s statement:
Nadler says Trump committed crimes and the House will respond. His statement does NOT say he's starting an impeachment inquiry, however. https://t.co/mWH57GmUVU
— Steven Dennis (@StevenTDennis) May 29, 2019
That hasn’t stopped other Democrats from renewing calls for impeachment. Cory Booker moved solidly into the I column after Mueller’s statement, calling it a “legal and moral obligation.” Others who have already been on Team Impeachment will no doubt cheerlead even harder for that move now. Nadler’s called a press conference to discuss Mueller’s statement this afternoon, so he’ll have the opportunity to join up … if he really wants an impeachment fight.
Nadler might be more inclined to discuss how he’ll get Mueller to testify even after Mueller’s pledge to say no more. The Daily Beast reports that Nadler hasn’t given up on that effort:
Democrats on Capitol Hill are not giving up on finding a way to get Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify even after Mueller said on Wednesday that he would not go beyond what was written in his report, according to two individuals with knowledge of ongoing negotiations. …
House Democratic staffers plan to meet later Wednesday to discuss Mueller’s statement and strategize about how to move forward with his possible appearance in front of Congress. In the past, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) had said that he would consider subpoenaing Mueller if he chose not to testify, though the congressman said he had hoped it wouldn’t come to that.
Convincing Mueller to show up at all will be tough even without starting an impeachment process. After Nadler takes that plunge, it would not only be impossible but also moot. If the House decides to impeach, Mueller will argue, that’s a political process, not a legal process. Have fun storming the castle, Mueller will say, especially since removal by the Senate is a certain loser.
Update: Nadler’s still not going there. Even though Mueller may have poked Congress to take action, Nadler’s position is essentially unchanged:
Nadler on impeachment: "With respect to impeachment question at this point, all options are on the table. Nothing should be ruled out." pic.twitter.com/20j8styQGA
— CBS News (@CBSNews) May 29, 2019
All options have been on the table all along. This is just business as usual, including the reiteration of Mueller’s statement, which was itself a reiteration of Mueller’s report. Nothing to see here, in other words.