Political theater on Robert Mueller masquerades as serious oversight

Only weeks ago, the nation was waiting with bated breath for special counsel Robert Mueller to tell us if our president was a Russia mole and traitor. However, now we know from the most elite team of prosecutors in history that the Donald Trump campaign did not conspire with Russia to rig the 2016 election, and yet we are also supposed to believe we are nonetheless in a “constitutional crisis” because of how Attorney General William Barr has handled the rollout of the findings. This is ridiculous.

The Russia investigation was never designed or intended to substitute for a proper impeachment inquiry, in which Congress asks the questions, collects the evidence, and then decides what to do with it. Nonetheless, enemies of the president hoped against the odds that Mueller and his team would stumble across criminal activity so egregious on behalf of the president or his family that public support for his administration would crumble and impeachment would naturally follow. Now that the effort has fallen short, they are insisting the nation is at a breaking point because the very system they helped create did not get them the result they wanted.

Democrats knew from the start that Mueller would likely feel constrained by Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted and prosecuted while in office. They also knew that Mueller, despite his designation as a special counsel, was operating under more or less the same rules that govern every other Justice Department investigation. Those rules include maintaining the secrecy of grand jury information, respecting the confidentiality of persons who are not charged with a crime, and deferring to the attorney general for ultimate disposition.

{mosads}Why should Democrats have known all this? Because Congress wrote the rules governing grand jury secrecy, and Congress allowed the previous independent counsel statute to just lapse, leaving us the special counsel construct that we have today. What about those awful special counsel regulations that seem designed to protect Trump? They were actually drafted by the Justice Department during the Clinton administration.

So having set the rules in place, Democrats are now suddenly shocked to be faced with an attorney general who refuses to break them. Barr was entirely within his authority to receive the report, make a determination as to whether an obstruction of justice case was there, and then maintain the confidentiality of the material and evidence with redactions just like any other Justice Department investigation in which charges are not brought.

Instead, within mere weeks, Barr released the report to the public with minimal redactions. With more than 90 percent of this confidential report already available to select members of Congress, Barr has nonetheless been charged with contempt for not violating grand jury secrecy laws and releasing the rest. Is it really difficult to see why so many in Washington would rather circle the wagons instead of trying to meet in the middle?

What about the characterization of findings on obstruction in his initial letter to Congress, or whether Mueller and his team disagreed with the summary Barr wrote, or whether the special counsel wanted the ultimate determination to be made by Congress and not the attorney general? Sorry, but with all due respect, the opinions and preferences of Mueller are not what carry the day. They also knew the rules that were in place, and prosecutors do not get to change those rules or air their personal grievances simply because they disagree with their chain of command.

The only offense is that Barr was too quick to release the report and too quick to entertain unserious questions from unserious people. There is a reason that the full report is meant to be confidential, that grand jury material is kept secret, and that information about uncharged crimes is not dumped online. By going out of his way to make the findings public, Barr put himself in a tough spot with partisans who will never be satisfied.

Enemies of the president bet all their cards on Russia hoping the special counsel could do with indictments what they were unable to do at the ballot box. It is evident Trump will be neither criminally prosecuted nor removed from office by a Republican Senate, so all that remains is to fire off subpoenas nobody will respond to, issue contempt findings nobody will enforce, and convince the masses of a crisis that does not exist. What should be serious oversight is now nothing more than political theater.

Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice and a United States Army combat veteran. He is now an attorney based in Washington. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno.

Tags Congress Democrats Donald Trump President Robert Mueller William Barr

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