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) MuellerAn unquestioning press promotes Rep. Adam Schiff's book based on Russia fiction Senate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG MORE submitted his report on President TrumpDonald TrumpFive reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season Giving thanks for Thanksgiving itself Immigration provision in Democrats' reconciliation bill makes no sense MORE’s ties to Russian efforts to help Trump win the White House by damaging Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonPoll: Democracy is under attack, and more violence may be the future Popping the progressive bubble GOP primary in NH House race draws national spotlight MORE’s 2016 campaign.
Mueller’s work led to 37 indictments or guilty pleas.
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 ManafortYellen should utilize the resources available before pushing new regulations Huawei paid Tony Podesta 0K for White House lobbying FBI agents swarm Russian oligarch's DC home MORE, Trump’s former campaign chairman; Rick GatesRick GatesTreasury: Manafort associate passed 'sensitive' campaign data to Russian intelligence Trump Jr. was deposed in inauguration funds probe Trump's pardons harshly criticized by legal experts MORE, the former deputy campaign chairman and Trump’s longtime political advisor, Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneJan. 6 panel subpoenas Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and leaders The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden's strategy to lower gas prices The Hill's Morning Report - Ins and outs: Powell renominated at Fed, Parnell drops Senate bid 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 BarrMichael Cohen officially released from prison sentence Incoming NAACP Legal Defense Fund president sees progress against 'revitalized mission to advance white supremacy' Fox's Bartiromo called Bill Barr 'screaming' about election fraud: book 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 BidenUS lawmakers arrive in Taiwan to meet with local officials Biden meets with Coast Guard on Thanksgiving Five reasons for Biden, GOP to be thankful this season 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.
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.