Despite the fact that Trump’s handpicked Attorney General William Barr has conceded that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president, Trump and the GOP are claiming that they’ve scored a total victory.
They’ve have seized upon the fact that Mueller declined to make a decision on whether or not Trump committed obstruction of justice and the fact that he failed to find enough evidence of collusion to pursue it further as proof of Trump’s innocence. They have been celebrating accordingly and erroneously claiming that Trump has been “fully exonerated.”
The truth is far less rosy. Until the full report is released one can’t rule out the possibility that it contains deeply damaging information about Trump and members of his inner circle. Furthermore, if there is really nothing bad in it, why aren’t Republicans rushing to release it in full and clear the president’s name? Something is very suspicious here.
Now, Walter Dellinger, the man who served as Assistant Attorney General and head of the Office of Legal Counsel under President Bill Clinton has weighed in on the issue. In a new Op-Ed for The Washington Post, Dellinger breaks down how the Trump administration is not out of the woods yet. He says that those who vested their hopes in Mueller’s probe could still end up vindicated.
“All we can do right now is speculate about a report that only a few people have seen. But even based on what little we know — Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary, the indictments and court filings that came from Mueller’s team — it’s premature to write off its findings, which exceed 300 pages,” Dellinger points out.
“Mueller’s office may have properly drafted a detailed and damning account of Trump’s obstruction of justice and simply cast it as a set of facts, a road map for the analysts who must decide what to do about it: members of Congress,” he adds.
Dellinger goes on to explain that Mueller’s decision not to pursue charges against Trump could stem from the Department of Justice’s “long-standing policy against indicting a sitting president.” He may have simply chosen to follow the lead of Leon Jaworski, the independent counsel during the Watergate scandal who didn’t indict Nixon but gave his findings to Congress to deal with as they saw fit.
That said, Dellinger floats the possibility that Mueller may have miscalculated by not anticipating the eventuality of Attorney General Barr “improperly” declaring the president innocent or guilty. “It was Barr, not Mueller, who decided that Barr should be the judge,” Clinton’s former Assistant Attorney General writes.
Dellinger breaks down a couple of possible elements that could be in the report that would directly challenge Trump’s claim that he has been exonerated:
“The initial portion could document the intervention by military agents of a hostile foreign power in an American presidential campaign. Yes, we already know the outlines of this attack from the allegations in Mueller’s grand jury indictments of Russian operatives. But it would nonetheless be startling to read a coherent account of this brazen attack on democracy. The counterintelligence portion may prove deeply embarrassing to those who argue that Mueller’s investigation should never have existed.”
On top of that, the fact that Trump’s campaign officials have not been indicted for working with Russians doesn’t mean the report won’t hurt them. Dellinger writes that the requirements for Mueller to move forward with criminal proceedings are quite demanding. While the evidence he found not might have met the standard to charge Trump’s officials, that doesn’t mean there’s no evidence.
“This standard might preclude indictments where campaign officials knew of Russians’ interference and even welcomed it, but where the special counsel’s office could not expect to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that there was an actual ‘agreement’ between the campaign and the Russian government. Even in the absence of indictments in connection with complicity, simply narrating the Russian attempts, and what the Trump team knew about them, would highlight the president’s utter failure to fashion an adequate defense of American democracy,” Dellinger writes.
Collusion and conspiracy aside, Dellinger believes that the obstruction of justice sections of the report might actually prove to be the most damaging in the end. We already know about the firing of James Comey and the demand that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions “unrecuse” himself to help Trump, but the report might contain unrevealed, even more damning actions taken by the president. Writes Dellinger:
“Don’t forget the allegation that Trump asked the CIA director and the director of national intelligence to push the FBI director to end his investigation of former national security adviser Michael T. Flynn. Don’t forget: The famous ‘smoking gun’ Oval Office tape that forced Nixon’s resignation had him ordering the CIA to persuade the FBI to end its investigation of the Watergate break-in.”
The entire Op-Ed goes into even greater detail about Dellinger’s suspicions and expectations and is certainly worth the read. One comes away from the piece with one distinct conviction: Trump’s problems are only just beginning.
Read it in full here.