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Opinion | An invitation to impeach, in Mueller-speak
By Dana Milbank
Robert S. Mueller III at the Justice Department in Washington on Wednesday. (Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
Mueller is that rare public figure who, in this age of bombast and
baloney, still uses language with discipline and economy.
For t wo years as special counsel, he said not a word in public, and his office sprung nary a leak. Even when his purported friend Attorney General William Barr seriously mischaracterized his findings before releasing the report, Mueller kept quiet.
Finally, Mueller emerged
in front of the cameras at the Justice Department on Wednesday morning
to say that . . . well, he doesn’t wish to say anything more.
is important the office’s written work speak for itself,” he said, and
“the report is my testimony,” and “we chose those words carefully, and
the work speaks for itself.”
This linguistic caution makes it all the more noteworthy that Mueller did depart from the report’s language
in one area: President Trump’s criminality. A “president cannot be
charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is
unconstitutional,” Mueller said. “Even if the charge is kept under seal
and hidden from public view, that, too, is prohibited.” Charging the
president with a crime, he said, “was therefore not an option.”
Prohibited. Not an option. This was stronger language than the report
used, and Mueller added that under “principles of fairness,” he couldn’t
charge Trump “when there can be no court resolution of the actual
charge.” Under Justice Department policy, he said, “the Constitution
requires a process other than the criminal-justice system to formally
accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing.”
this man of precise language was not inviting Congress to impeach the
president, he certainly seemed to be inviting the belief that he didn’t
charge Trump with crimes only because he couldn’t. And because Mueller
chooses words carefully, it’s also worth noting which one he didn’t use:
“collusion.” Instead, he implicitly rebuked a president who constantly,
maddeningly, refers to Vladimir Putin’s interference in the 2016
election as the “Russian hoax.”
intelligence officers who are part of the Russian military launched a
concerted attack on our political system,” Mueller reminded us Wednesday.
He found “that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into
computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign. They stole private
information and then released that information through fake online
identities and through the organization WikiLeaks. The releases were
designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a
Mueller ended his nearly 10-minute statement
where it began, and where the entire investigation began: with a
Russian attack on the United States. There “were multiple, systematic
efforts to interfere in our election, and that allegation deserves the
attention of every American,” Mueller said.
our country’s political health were better, the Russian attack would get
the attention of every American. But Mueller gives us more credit than
we deserve. His report assumed that our leaders would take seriously the
Russian threat when presented with overwhelming evidence. It assumed
that political leaders would soberly weigh the evidence that Trump
obstructed his investigation.
Instead, Trump laughs about the whole thing with Putin, Republican leaders quash bipartisan efforts
to protect the 2020 election from another attack, and GOP lawmakers,
instead of pondering the president’s culpability and Mueller’s damning
findings, demand investigations of investigators’ “treason” and attempted “coup.”
appealing to their better angels, Mueller was naive. Yet even
Wednesday, as he entered the Justice Department briefing room, stooped
and alone, he continued to act as though things were on the level. His
necktie askew, he read from his text carefully, tripping over a few
words, occasionally rubbing his nose and otherwise indicating discomfort
in the spotlight. “I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak
further,” he said.
Mueller’s sense of propriety
seems quaint, given the sabotage done to him. Barr’s misdirection about
Mueller’s findings devalued the crucial work, but Mueller said he
didn’t question Barr’s “good faith.” Trump outrageously accuses investigators of a capital crime, but Mueller mildly defended his staff’s “fair and independent manner” and “highest integrity.”
Trump reacted to Mueller’s statement in predictable fashion. He retweeted a false statement saying Mueller found “no collusion,” he proclaimed his innocence, and he retweeted
a message from his campaign: “Now it’s time to turn to the origins of
the Russia hoax and get to the bottom of why the Trump campaign was
spied on by the Obama-era DOJ and FBI.”
is preparing to attack us — again. Trump is poised to benefit — again.
Unlike in 2016, we now know Russia’s bad intentions, thanks to Mueller.
That Trump and his allies facilitate the Russian attack by refusing to
protect against it is the essence of collusion.