Terry H. Schwadron
March 23, 2019
We’ve reached Mueller Time, the day we’ve been anticipating for longer than we can remember: After more than two years plus of heavy investigating, careful checking and witch hunt magic, the Special Counsel’s report has been given to Atty. Gen. William P. Barr.
Now instead of arguing when we will see the report, we get ready for the next in an endless series of questions:
· What actually do we know, and when will we have a good understanding of whether the Trump campaign, the family, the president or his associates were working with Russians during the campaign?
· What actually will Barr include in his summary that will comport with any White House view of executive privacy? Barr needs to protect certain information, we all understand, like grand jury testimony and procedural sources.
· What is Congress or anyone else supposed to do next, based on the content of the report? It is not only the top line information that Congress wants, for example, but the underlying information that might lead to non-criminal congressional action.
After incessant hinting around in Washington circles, the report is being handed over for review and summary, either in long form or short form. What is not included is what criminal cases remain before ancillary prosecution groups in the Southern District of New York and prosecutors in Virginia.
Of course, the debate already is on about to what degree new Atty. Gen. William Barr will lean towards transparency in the public release of the report. In a letter to the leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Barr wrote only that Mueller “has concluded his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters,” adding that he might be able to summarize principal conclusions even this weekend.
Barr said there were no instances in the course of the investigation in which any of Mueller’s decisions were vetoed by his superiors at the Justice Department. “I remain committed to as much transparency as possible, and I will keep you informed as to the status of my review,” Barr wrote.
Democratic leaders immediately called for Barr to fulfill his vows of transparency.
With all the heat turned up in recent weeks by the congressional testimony of Michael Cohen, the trials of Paul Manafort and the pending charges against Roger Stone, we still have only serious breadcrumbs that President Trump’s behavior as a liar, con man and cheat reflect actual criminal liability for conspiring to violate campaign laws, a felony, and playing with numbers submitted for government and bank review, which could add to suspicions of fraud charges.
Interestingly, little of all that is central to the Mueller probe, but rather they are important to prosecutors at the Southern District of New York and to New York State.
But the questions that all of America, Russia and probably the world have been awaiting about whether the Russian attempts at influencing American 2016 election — and their cover-up attempts — constitute a prosecutorial crime are probably going to take yet more nervous time.
The talk leading to this point is that the law as written does not require that Barr doing anything with the results of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller and team.
Despite Barr’s promise to be as transparent as he can be, Barr actually only needs to turn over a summary to the Congress, and probably issue the blandest, most basic summary of the summary, minus anything that emerged during grand jury testimony or other protected investigative techniques.
On the practical, political side, however, we’re all itching to find out what the report says.
And from all indications, we should be ready for disappointment. For openers, it appears that there are no secret indictments or further prosecution to accept.
For anyone awaiting television coverage of an FBI raid on the White House, forget it, because Mueller long ago seemed to have accepted Justice Department thinking that sitting presidents cannot be indicted even for a serious crime.
For anyone awaiting a clean, clear vindication of Trump, his circle of intimates, associates and friends of the Trump Campaign, you can probably forget that too, since too much water is already under the bridge with the convictions of Michael T. Flynn, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, the pending criminal charges against Roger Stone and unenforceable charges against a couple dozen Russians. There has been too much Russia contact under funky enough circumstances to say that there has been no collusion.
The likeliest scenario is that Mueller will lay out the so-called roadmap to the investigation to date, all but inviting Democrats to pursue further investigations that may lead to political solutions or quagmires, however you can read how a bifurcated Congress could possibly agree on what constitutes charges significant enough for any possible impeachment. That roadmap and the liberal distribution of seeds of current and future cases to the Southern District of New York, New York State and the federal U.S. attorney in Virginia should be enough to guarantee that Justice Department officials in kinship with Mueller can continue what he started as a limited inquiry into how Russian influence had come about.
Even for late night comedy hosts, a procedural guide to how potential crimes may stack up against the evidence is about the worst they could hope for. What kind of jokes can you make from reasonable inference?
In any event, we can safely predict that the loudest voices in the room today and in the days to follow will be those of President Trump and Rudy Giuliani, who will rise on their hind legs to bay a different tune at the moon in an attempt to go over the head of any Justice inquiry directly to the Trump electorate. That dynamic duo already has promised a counter-report to re-interpret whatever is presented as fact in order to keep the Trumps protected.
It also seems a safe bet that almost regardless of what the report carries as narrative about the 2016 campaign, the Republican majority in the U.S. Senate, which would try any impeachment effort voted by a Democratic House, would fail to hit two-thirds needed for conviction.
There has been virtually no part of this investigation that opposing political parties have felt they could find agreeable, including the question of whether such an investigation was justified in the first place.
The story that the now-ousted heads of the FBI told about their shock at learning information that a small group of American Trump supporters may have been working with Russians who wanted to influence the election, hoping for election success via troubles for Hillary Clinton, and potentially offering relief from U.S. sanctions vaguely in return is well at odds with the Trump version of events. In the Trump version, there was no attempt to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow, meetings with Russian operatives were really about U.S. adoptions of Russian orphans rather than dirt on Hillary, that none of the individuals named as Trump associates really had anything to do much with Trump himself.
That Trump associates had more than 100 meetings, authorized or not, with Russian operatives was merely coincidental, in the Trump telling of events.
Let’s hope that once Barr opens the book, he tells us enough to let us start breathing as a country once again.