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Juan Williams: Mueller, one year on

Juan Williams: Mueller, one year on
© Greg Nash

An important anniversary went by last week with little notice because of the focus on the coronavirus crisis.

One year ago, Special Counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE submitted his report on President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Trump's remaking of the judicial system Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit MORE’s ties to Russian efforts to help Trump win the White House by damaging Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Third vaccine candidate with 90% efficacy Biden won — so why did Trump's popularity hit its highest point ever? The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Calls mount to start transition as Biden readies Cabinet picks MORE’s 2016 campaign.

Mueller’s work led to 37 indictments or guilty pleas.

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That resulted in guilty pleas or convictions for top Trump campaign officials and allies including Michael Flynn, the president’s former National Security Adviser; Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortHow to combat Putin's financial aggression Like it or not, a Trump self-pardon may be coming soon DOJ veteran says he's quitting over Barr's 'slavish obedience' to Trump MORE, Trump’s former campaign chairman; Rick GatesRick GatesHow to combat Putin's financial aggression Sunday shows preview: Trump COVID-19 diagnosis rocks Washington, 2020 election The Hill's 12:30 Report - Sponsored by The Air Line Pilots Association -Trump enters debate week after NYT obtains his tax returns MORE, the former deputy campaign chairman and Trump’s longtime political advisor, Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneWashington braces for unpredictable post-election period Like it or not, a Trump self-pardon may be coming soon This election is headed to the courts, but Democrats have lawyers too MORE.

That is impressive work.

But a year later, what stands out is how the lack of criminal charges against Trump and members of his family have emboldened the president.

Once Team Trump saw Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMerrick Garland on list to be Biden's attorney general: report DOJ dropping charges against ex-Mexican defense minister DOJ watchdog finds Louisiana inmates with coronavirus were not isolated for a week MORE and right-wing talk show hosts successfully dismiss and distort the Mueller Report into irrelevance, the last shackles of restraint on the president vanished.

Trump, without censure from Mueller, felt free to pressure the Ukrainian president to take action to damage former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden team wants to understand Trump effort to 'hollow out government agencies' Overnight Defense: Trump transgender ban 'inflicts concrete harms,' study says | China objects to US admiral's Taiwan visit Protect our world: How the Biden administration can save lives and economies worldwide MORE — Trump’s likely rival in the 2020 election.

And when that corrupt phone call was uncovered, Trump thumbed his nose at the House impeachment process by describing it as sour grapes from Democrats, depicting them as disappointed that he was not ousted by Mueller’s findings.

Trump also felt free to punish the military and diplomatic staff that fulfilled their constitutional duty to testify before Congress about his underhanded effort with the Ukrainians. Then he went on a pardoning spree, even hinting at possibly pardoning Flynn and attacking a juror in the Stone case.

Earlier this month, Barr’s twisting of the Mueller Report led U.S. District Court Judge Reggie Walton to order the Justice Department to give him a full — no redactions — copy of the document.

Walton wrote that the attorney general’s “misleading public statements” in summarizing the parts of Mueller’s work that were later released appear to have been a “calculated” effort to protect the president and even create political advantage for the president.

Why did the judge issue such a rare rebuke?

For one, Mueller’s failure to charge Trump with obstruction of justice created an opening for Barr to claim that Trump broke no law.

But Mueller later told Congress he did not exonerate Trump and did not indict because of federal policies against charging a sitting president.

Here is what Mueller wrote about Trump’s effort to interfere with his probe: “If we had confidence… that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.”

That’s not all.

Barr also twisted Mueller’s failure to charge conspiracy or collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign. Somehow, he did not mention that Mueller set a very high standard by looking for an explicit agreement between Moscow and Trump’s campaign.

Also, Barr did not say that Mueller’s report found “numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign.”

This is why Mueller protested that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of his report.

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Yet, that mild, gentlemanly rebuke from Mueller cannot hide the reality that having uncovered damning facts, his report lacked the strong language and charges necessary to stand up to a storm of Trump’s alternative facts and pure misinformation.

Ken Starr, the independent counsel who investigated President Clinton, charged him for lying about sex.

Mueller had more significant lies by Trump but did nothing with them.

As a result, Trump continues to use the Mueller Report as a political whipping boy, happily dismissing the investigation as a “scam,” and “witch hunt.” Trump says it never should have taken place even though the Justice Department’s Inspector General found no political bias in the decision to start the Mueller investigation.

When Trump objected to the sentencing recommendation in the Stone case he tweeted “these were Mueller prosecutors.”

Looking back, Mueller’s failure to interview the president and members of his family — including his son, Donald Trump Jr., who met with a Russian at Trump Tower during the campaign — was viewed as having prevented a lengthy court fight that could have delayed release of the report.

The same forgiving attitude extended to Mueller’s failure to get Trump’s tax returns. Mueller’s decision to go easy apparently also led him to not call out Trump for lying about writing a misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting.

But those decisions are hard to swallow today. The underlying offense — that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help Trump — is still ongoing.

As the New York Times reported in February: “Intelligence officials warned House lawmakers last week that Russia was interfering in the 2020 campaign to try to get President Trump re-elected."

The question is, how do Biden and Democrats handle Mueller’s report and Russia as a campaign issue? Should they just let it go, not mention Russia?

There is a strong argument that Biden should let Russia go and focus on Trump’s mishandling of the coronavirus and the looming recession. That does not mean history will do the same. 

Juan Williams is an author, and a political analyst for Fox News Channel.