Was Special Counsel Robert Mueller ready to indict President Trump, drafting up charges on three counts of obstruction of justice before changing his mind?
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That’s the explosive claim made by author Michael Wolff in his new book Siege: Trump Under Fire due out next week.
Wolff — the writer of one of the first best-selling tell-all books to reveal the massive dysfunction in the Oval Office — bases this allegation “on internal documents given to me by sources close to the Office of the Special Counsel,” according to the new tome’s author’s notes.
A spokesperson for Mueller “flatly denied” the claim which was reported by The Guardian after they received an advance copy of Wolff’s book and reviewed the documents involved.
“Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, told The Guardian: ‘The documents that you’ve described do not exist,’” according to the paper.
Yet the newspaper says that the documents that Wolff presented outline three separate counts of obstruction of justice and reportedly sat on Mueller’s desk for nearly a year with a cover page titled “United States of America against Donald J Trump, Defendant”.
“According to a document seen by the Guardian, the first count, under Title 18, United States code, Section 1505, charged the president with corruptly – or by threats of force or threatening communication – influencing, obstructing or impeding a pending proceeding before a department or agency of the United States.”
“The second count, under section 1512, charged the president with tampering with a witness, victim or informant.”
“The third count, under section 1513, charged the president with retaliating against a witness, victim or informant.”
Despite the denials from the Special Counsel’s office, the evidence already available both through the Mueller report and as made obvious by President Trump’s own Twitter posts would easily support such an indictment if the Department of Justice were not standing by its legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
According to Wolff’s book, the president’s obstruction attempts began almost as soon as he took office:
They “began on the seventh day of his administration, tracing the line of obstruction from National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s lies to the FBI about his contacts with Russian representative[s], to the president’s efforts to have [FBI director] James Comey protect Flynn, to Comey’s firing, to the president’s efforts to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation, to his attempt to cover up his son and son-in-law’s meeting with Russian governmental agents, to his moves to interfere with Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe’s testimony …”
Wolff also reports that the draft indictment presented the overarching theme of Trump’s regime to date in Mueller’s eyes as being the “extraordinary lengths” the president took “to protect himself from legal scrutiny and accountability, and to undermine the official panels investigating his actions”.
“According to Wolff, Mueller endured tortured deliberations over whether to charge the president, and even more tortured deliberations over the president’s power to dismiss him or his boss, the then deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein,” according to The Guardian.
While those tortured deliberations ultimately resulted in the decision to shelve the draft indictment, Wolff quotes the disputed document as arguing that the law does not say anywhere that the president cannot be indicted and that the president cannot be granted a different status under the law than other federal officials, all of whom can be indicted, convicted and impeached.
“The Impeachment Judgment Clause, which applies equally to all civil officers including the president … takes for granted … that an officer may be subject to indictment and prosecution before impeachment. If it did not, the clause would be creating, for civil officers, precisely the immunity the Framers rejected,” Wolff writes that the indictment reads.
Wolff’s revelations, if they are indeed true, raise the obvious question as to why Mueller reversed course after drafting what seems to be such an open and shut case of obstruction of justice.
The answer lies, according to the author, in Mueller’s belief that he could be fired at any time by the president, leading his staff to try to salvage their work by sharing it with other prosecutors like those in the federal Southern District of New York and other jurisdictions to ensure that the investigations of certain aspects of their probe could survive any sudden termination of the Special Counsel probe.
In the end, Wolff writes:
“Bob Mueller threw up his hands. Surprisingly, he found himself in agreement with the greater White House: Donald Trump was the president, and, for better or for worse, what you saw was what you got – and what the country voted for.”
By ultimately accepting the Justice Department ruling that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Robert Mueller led us to our situation today — waiting for Democrats in the House of Representatives to choose between pursuing justice and constitutional integrity through what some see as a politically risky impeachment process that could fail to remove Trump from office and leave him more difficult to defeat in the 2020 presidential race and simply using ongoing investigations to make his 2020 bid more difficult while waiting for the American people to make their own decision at the ballot box.
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Original reporting by Edward Helmore at The Guardian.