The Sphinx speaks! In one of the most surreal moments in recent Washington history, special counsel Robert Mueller, who never spoke to reporters once in two years, suddenly held a news conference last Wednesday.
Nine minutes later, Americans knew what Mueller sounded like — we’d never heard his voice before — but we still weren’t completely sure what the hell he said. Mueller spoke in such turgid prose, legal scholars will be parsing his words long after President Trump is gone, still trying to figure out exactly why Mueller called his news conference and what he was trying to say.
Still, through his fog of legalese, it’s clear Mueller made several important points. One, Russia engaged in a massive, systematic effort to help Donald Trump get elected in 2016 — which Trump has yet to acknowledge, let alone condemn. Two, despite Trump’s denials, members of his team engaged on many occasions with Russian officials — just not overtly enough to prove a criminal conspiracy. Three, at least 10 times Donald Trump attempted to obstruct justice (which is a crime!) by interfering with or trying to block the FBI investigation — for which, Mueller all but acknowledged, he would have filed charges against Trump if a long-standing Department of Justice rule had not prevented his doing so.
In effect, Mueller said that both Trump and Attorney General William Barr were lying when they claimed that his report concluded with the finding of “No Collusion, No Obstruction.” In fact, Mueller said he found evidence of both. And, in the “money shot” of his statement, he all but expressed regret that he was blocked by that obscure Justice Department rule from tagging Trump with a crime: “If we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.”
At that point, however, having refused to exonerate Trump, Mueller drew the line. That was it. His final statement on the matter. I have nothing more to say, he insisted. It’s all in the report. If you want to know more, read it. I hope members of Congress won’t call me to testify. But, if they do, I won’t say anything more than I said this morning.
And, with that, Mueller rode off into the sunset, never to be heard from again. Or so he hopes. But Democrats in Congress should not let him off the hook so easily. Of course, Mueller must testify. And the sooner, the better.
Will he say anything new? Maybe not. He says he won’t say anything beyond what appears in his final report? He doesn’t have to. We are, after all, a visual nation. Even if Mueller does nothing more than read the most damaging parts of his report out loud, on national television, he would still have made the strongest case yet against Trump.
Mueller should be pressed to do more than that, of course. Having been assigned, on behalf of the American people, to investigate possible wrongdoing by Trump, he should be asked under oath: Did members of the Trump campaign collude with Russia? Yes or No? Did Donald Trump obstruct justice? Yes or no? In your opinion, did the president break the law? Yes or No? Did the president commit impeachable offenses? Yes or No?
Until he appears before Congress and answers those questions — even after an investigation lasting 675 days, employing 19 lawyers, interviewing 500 witnesses, issuing 34 indictments and 2,800 subpoenas, costing $25 million, and releasing a 448-page report — Robert Mueller’s work is not done.