Robert Mueller’s brief, eight-minute remarks on Wednesday about his investigation left the non-conservatives who closely follow his work fairly nonplussed. Mueller was simply reiterating things he had already written in his report. Conservatives, on the other hand, erupted in outrage.
What so vexed the right about Mueller’s curt affirmation of his previous conclusions? The answer, as we’ll see, seems to be that they believed their own propaganda about what Mueller had (and had not) found. Presented even briefly with reality, their minds have reeled in shock.
Mueller produced massive evidence that President Trump committed Nixonian-scale obstruction of justice in office. But Department of Justice policy prevented him from charging a sitting president with a crime, and Mueller reportedly believes he can’t openly state that this policy prevented him from accusing Trump of crimes. Mueller views his job as sending his evidence to Congress without prejudice, where the impeachment mechanism serves as a substitute for the jury trial that such crimes would normally call for.
Trump, William Barr, and the Republican Party followed a strategy of systematically lying about this. Barr repeatedly suggested that Mueller, rather than being unable to charge Trump with crimes, simply didn’t have enough evidence of misconduct to make up his mind. By all indications, the conservative intelligentsia has failed to read the report and believes the misleading spin emanating from the president and his loyal attorney general.
Shortly after Mueller finished speaking, National Review’s Charles C.W. Cooke complained, “Investigators are supposed to look for evidence that a crime was committed, and, if they don’t find enough to contend that a crime was committed, they are supposed to say ‘We didn’t find enough to contend that a crime was committed’ … If a person doesn’t have enough evidence that someone committed a crime to contend that a crime was committed, he is obliged to presume his innocence.”
Of course. But the explanation for this apparent paradox, which apparently hasn’t crossed Cooke’s mind, is that Mueller does have evidence that Trump committed crimes. Pages and pages and pages of evidence, in fact.
And as silly and basic as his error may be, fellow conservatives followed the same fundamentally mistaken premise. “By implying that President Trump might have committed obstruction of justice, Mueller effectively invited Democrats to institute impeachment proceedings,” writes a stunned Alan Dershowitz. “Obstruction of justice is a ‘high crime and misdemeanor’ which, under the Constitution, authorizes impeachment and removal of the president.”
Right. Mueller found clear and extensive evidence that Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors. Dershowitz proceeds from his confusion to complain that Mueller’s insinuation that Trump committed high crimes could only be resolved through “a full adversarial trial with a zealous defense attorney, vigorous cross-examination, exclusionary rules of evidence, and other due process safeguards.” That process is called impeachment. Dershowitz is describing the reason why Mueller is leaving the decision to prosecute the crimes he discovered to Congress. Because Dershowitz cannot surrender his belief in Trump’s innocence, he sees Mueller as carrying out an unfathomable Kafkaesque travesty, rather than a straightforward application of the system of processing presidential crimes.
John Podhoretz laments that Mueller emphasized his lack of exoneration of Trump’s conduct. “Granted, [Mueller] said pretty much the same thing in the report he produced,” Podhoretz concedes, but “[i]t matters what he chose to repeat from it and what he did not. He wanted the American people to hear him speak those words.” Podhoretz is aghast that Mueller would emphasize this, but the reason is perfectly obvious: It’s because Barr lied about it.
Rather than reach this obvious conclusion, Podhoretz decides Mueller has bungled the job: “If Mueller didn’t intend to signal to Congress that his report could serve as the basis for an impeachment,” he writes, “his statement was wildly incompetent.” But maybe Mueller did intend to signal to Congress that his report could serve as the basis for impeachment? And maybe Mueller specifically asked Congress to decide whether Trump’s misconduct amounts to crimes because the DOJ does not allow him to? Podhoretz, of course, does not consider such an explanation.
Ironically, it was Fox News meathead Dan Bongino, ranting to his radio audience, who came closest to grasping reality. Bongino notices that Mueller heavily signaled that he did find behavior that, if the perpetrator was not the president, would be crimes:
[Mueller] wants the liberals to go out and say, “Look, the president clearly committed a crime Mueller laid it out and the only reason he didn’t charge him is because he was the president.” You may say, “Well, Dan, that is what Mueller said, what’s the comeback to that?” The comeback is very easy — that is not what Bob Mueller told Bill Barr …
How does Bongino know what Mueller told Barr? Because Barr insists Mueller didn’t hold back from charging Trump because of DOJ policy. And Barr would never lie:
Ladies and gentlemen, both these stories can’t be true. Either Mueller is lying or Barr is lying. And I will bet you my right arm and I will throw in my left as a bonus, that Bob Mueller just lied to the American people.
Bongino realizes this comes down to either Barr or Mueller misleading the country about what Mueller’s report concluded. And yet, perched one step away from the correct answer, he insists it must be Mueller who is lying about the Mueller report. Ignore all the evidence of obvious crimes in the Mueller report. Ignore Mueller telling us that department policy prevents him from labeling those actions as crimes. The one reliable truth Bongino returns to is the sacred value of Bill Barr’s word.
If you can’t trust the slavishly loyal attorney general, handpicked by a president whose sole criterion for the job is to ignore its ethical guidelines and protect him at all costs, who can you trust?