Earl Ofari Hutchinson
The Justice Department: Read: Attorney General William Barr issued strict guidelines on what former Special Counsel Robert Mueller could say and not say in his testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Guidelines that Mueller himself asked the DOJ for. And even if Barr and the DOJ hadn’t mumbled one word about his testimony, given everything we know about Mueller’s legendary tight-fistedness on legal matters, there’s absolutely no reason to think he’d go off script. In fact, he said as much with his terse quip “My report is my testimony.” That meaning that he wouldn’t answer the one question that Democrats want him to answer. That is would you recommend an indictment of Trump for obstruction, or any other offense, stemming from your nearly two-year investigation?
Mueller gave Democrats a thin fig leaf when he ambiguously said that Trump did obstruct justice in the investigation. He gave pointed examples of how he did that. But he also made it clear that he strictly adhered to a prior DOJ opinion that a sitting president can’ t be indicted
So, then why do so many Democrats still bank that dragging Mueller before the Democratic controlled House Committees will get the smoking legal and political gun that will nail Trump? The reasons are just that, legal but especially political.
Back to the question then that anyone was ever really concerned about from day one in the Mueller probe. That was whether he found anything to prosecute Trump on. Whether that be obstruction of justice and/or collusion with Russian operatives in the hijacking the 2016 presidential election. In the months and months that Mueller dragged out the investigation the answer to that question always depended on who was asked.
Polls still show the deep partisan political divide on this. Few Republicans ever thought there was anything that directly finger pointed Trump with any criminal action. The overwhelming majority of Democrats said there was much that implicates Trump. The only thing that connected Trump to Russian sabotage of the election was the oft cited meeting between Trump Jr. at Trump Tower with Russian operatives in the run-up to the 2016 election. The operative word here is “indirect” since Trump wasn’t at the meeting, denied any knowledge of any talk about smear tactics to be used against Hillary Clinton, and Trump Jr. blew it off as simply a routine business meeting.
The only other possible incriminating tidbit was Trump‘s firing of former FBI Director James Comey when presumably he refused to shut down the Russia probe. This is basically Comey’s word that this happened the way he says it did. If it did then Muller could have made a plausible case against Trump for obstruction of justice. That’s a potentially impeachable offense. But even before Mueller cited the guidelines preventing indicting a sitting president, it still would have been a tough sell. He would have had to show that Trump made a false statement, withheld, concealed, altered, or destroyed a document that obstructed the investigation.
There was no evidence of any existence, let alone concealment, destruction or tampering, of a document that showed that Trump ordered or demanded that Comey stand down from investigating him.
The bigger problem with trying to make an obstruction of justice charge stick was always the thorny matter of trying to prove intent. So, even if Trump desperately wanted Comey to back off from any potential investigation of his Russia tie and did try to undermine such an investigation, a prosecutor would still have to prove that he deliberately and willfully used illegal means to stop Comey from an investigation.
It’s so muddled, confused, and bogged down in a never-ending circle of legal he said-she said assertions to almost hopelessly throttle a prosecutor and a federal grand jury.
There was always the matter though of alleged payoffs that Trump ordered made to prevent potentially embarrassing sexual hijinks revelations made public before the 2016 presidential election. His one-time fixer attorney and accountant have pointed the finger at Trump on this. However, this charge strayed far afield from the whole intent of the Mueller investigation which was to try and sort out what Trump knew and when did he know it about Russian tampering with the 2016 presidential election to put him in the White House. The collusion and obstruction of justice charges that could bring down Trump hinged on the answer to that question.
None of this meant anything if there was nothing to directly implicate Trump in criminal wrongdoing. But hope still springs eternal among many Democrats that Mueller would still give them something, anything to hang a possible Trump impeachment try on. That didn’t happen when Mueller issued his report, and it won’t after his testimony.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of The Russia Probe: What Did Trump Know, And When Did He Know It? (Middle Passage Press) https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07L46G65X He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.