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Mueller investigation was no 'witch hunt'

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CNN's Shimon Prokupecz reads a "key line" from Attorney General William Barr's conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller's report on his investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Posted: Mar 25, 2019 7:20 AM
Updated: Mar 25, 2019 7:20 AM

A witch hunt.

That's what President Donald Trump called the special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation over 250 times, according to Factba.se. He attacked Mueller over 80 times on Twitter alone, trying to undercut the investigation, summoning up imagery of a "deep state" conspiracy, calling cooperating witnesses 'rats,' dismissing the special counsel's office as "13 angry democrats" and retweeted images of the special counsel in prison.

Now the report is in. A four-page summary has been released by Attorney General William Barr. Suddenly, the independence and integrity of Robert Mueller seems self-evident. He's being lauded by some Republicans while some Democrats are left feeling frustrated. We still need to see his full report. But despite all the unhinged attacks, the process appears to have moved ahead beyond partisan politics.

The president is vindicated on the question of Russian collusion. The special counsel "did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election inference activities." This is good news for our country.

The report does not backtrack on the fact that Russia did attempt to influence our elections, as the intelligence communities have long said and as the President repeatedly denied. Barr's letter does not begin to explain why so many members of the Trump orbit lied about contacts with the Russians or why the President is so reluctant to criticize Vladimir Putin. The role of Wikileaks or other third parties -- as indicted by the indictment of Roger Stone -- will still need to be seen when and if the full report is released.

On the question of obstruction, this is far less of a vindication for Team Trump. The attorney general quoted the special counsel's report saying that "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Note that this is in direct conflict with the President and the White House's insistence after the topline results of the report were released that it represented a complete "exoneration."

It explicitly is not that. Instead, the special counsel essentially punted the question of obstruction of justice to the Justice Department. We'll need to see the full report to get a sense of what evidence led Mueller to say there may or may not have been obstruction. It's more than a little odd and might have been a very different conclusion if the independent counsel statute had not been allowed to expire.

But Mueller reports to the Trump justice department and Attorney General Barr and Rod Rosenstein seem to have quickly decided that it is not worth prosecuting, consistent with Barr's 19-page memo dismissing obstruction claims before he became AG. This is an especially impactful decision, because we know that obstruction of justice is an impeachable offense from Republicans who applied that standard to Bill Clinton.

For all the attacks on the Mueller investigation's duration and expense, we can now see that it was relatively brisk and efficient compared to previous presidential investigations.

The Mueller investigation lasted 22 months and cost some $25 million, resulting in criminal charges being brought against 30 defendants including six Trump associates.

By comparison, the Watergate investigation lasted four years and cost $26 million. It led to the imprisonment of senior Nixon aides and the resignation of the president.

The Reagan era Iran Contra investigation lasted seven years and cost $75 million resulting in indictments of senior administration aides and the conclusion that it could find no evidence that President Reagan had broken the law but found evidence that Reagan had "knowingly participated or at least acquiesced' in covering up the scandal.

And Ken Starr's Whitewater investigation lasted five years and cost $40 million producing a 300-page public report resulting in the impeachment of President Clinton for lying and obstruction of justice about an affair.

So let's put to bed the idea that the Mueller investigation was a waste of time and money. The questions it investigated could not be more serious to our sovereignty and national security.

What's next?

Given what we know now, cheerleaders for impeachment will find their wishes frustrated. Independent voices have been saying we need to see what the Mueller report said on collusion with Russia. Now we know. No one should be an impeachment enthusiast. Impeachment is a political, not a legal, process but it would be tremendously destructive for the country and only polarize us further. That seems off the table. That's a good thing for the country.

But while the question of collusion should now be considered clear, there are still some 17 other investigations and cases ongoing, including the Southern District of New York.

House Democrats will continue to follow the money between and look into questions of whether the Trump organization was laundering money for Russian oligarchs. We don't know yet whether the Mueller report looked into this or referred the matter to a different jurisdiction.

House Democrats may also seek to subpoena additional background information and testimony. Over the weekend, Doug Collins, ranking Republican on House Judiciary, argued that "it's not the Department of Justice's job" to turn over info to Congress to inform investigations. But back in the Obama administration, House Republicans successfully sued to get the Department of Justice to hand over documents after they ignored a congressional subpoena.

The biggest question will be when and if the full Mueller report will be released to Congress and the American people. Given that the White House is claiming complete vindication, there should be no partisan resistance to releasing the report. Attorney General Barr says that is his intention absent restrictions about grand juries and national security. But there's no reason to believe that anything will go smoothly where our polarized politics are involved.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, President Trump's initial comments indicated no appreciation for the impartiality of the Mueller investigation. He called it an "illegal takedown that failed" -- and seemed to indicate that there may be pardons coming for some of his convicted aides.

Make no mistake, the Mueller investigation was the opposite of illegal. It was a triumph for the rule of law under extreme partisan pressure, especially from the President. And if anything we may find that Mueller's hands were tied because of his commitment to the letter of the law and the special counsel statutes.

But in the President's vindictive rather than vindicated response to the four-page summary, there is every sign that our civic stress test will continue. But despite all the political assaults, the rule of law proceeded on its own. To clear up the remaining questions -- and possibly to offer additional vindication for the President -- we will need to hope that the vote of 420 members of the House of Representatives to release the full report is respected. The American people deserve no less.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 514171

Reported Deaths: 10285
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34920557
DeSoto33270432
Hinds32652642
Jackson24876391
Rankin22516404
Lee16366245
Madison14932283
Jones14129247
Forrest13785260
Lauderdale12279324
Lowndes11314193
Lamar10663140
Pearl River9720244
Lafayette8855143
Hancock7839132
Washington7553169
Oktibbeha7216138
Monroe7036179
Pontotoc7003109
Warren6872178
Panola6768135
Neshoba6732210
Marshall6686142
Bolivar6451151
Union640898
Pike5933156
Alcorn5887107
Lincoln5533136
George510380
Prentiss505385
Tippah492783
Itawamba4857107
Scott478199
Adams4771125
Tate4765117
Leflore4736144
Copiah457095
Yazoo456692
Simpson4554117
Wayne443172
Covington434695
Sunflower4315106
Marion4279112
Coahoma4238109
Leake414090
Newton395782
Tishomingo384894
Grenada3777109
Stone365766
Jasper340866
Attala338790
Winston317892
Chickasaw316167
Clay312578
Clarke301295
Calhoun285949
Holmes271889
Smith269452
Yalobusha244247
Tallahatchie232053
Greene224749
Walthall221866
Lawrence219141
Perry213456
Amite209857
Webster206248
Noxubee188743
Montgomery181857
Carroll174941
Jefferson Davis173843
Tunica163339
Benton153139
Kemper145041
Choctaw136727
Claiborne134439
Humphreys132139
Franklin126029
Quitman107628
Wilkinson106139
Jefferson96934
Sharkey65321
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845761

Reported Deaths: 16119
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161862004
Mobile742411381
Madison53315732
Shelby38351369
Baldwin38104589
Tuscaloosa36052641
Montgomery34492781
Lee25590263
Calhoun22598518
Morgan22459406
Etowah20026518
Marshall18790316
Houston17741425
St. Clair16904358
Limestone16153219
Cullman16067303
Elmore15912294
Lauderdale14991306
Talladega14209299
DeKalb12985269
Walker12067380
Blount10729192
Autauga10526157
Jackson10170194
Coffee9425192
Colbert9341208
Dale9024192
Tallapoosa7273201
Russell708865
Chilton7042170
Escambia6956143
Covington6943195
Franklin6338108
Chambers5785142
Marion5413130
Dallas5295209
Pike5123109
Clarke484886
Lawrence4831129
Winston4780110
Geneva4643136
Bibb434594
Barbour369980
Butler3439100
Marengo342393
Monroe337466
Randolph334867
Pickens333988
Fayette330085
Henry320766
Hale318489
Cherokee318363
Crenshaw260777
Washington256952
Cleburne254560
Lamar251953
Clay251169
Macon245064
Conecuh193162
Coosa185547
Lowndes178268
Wilcox177638
Bullock152545
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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