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April 19, 2019

CAFE Brief 04/19: The Mueller Report Roundup

“But for the fact the President is the President, he would be in serious legal jeopardy on obstruction.”

– Preet Bharara


What a week. Attorney General Barr holds a press conference, the redacted Mueller report is released, and Congress calls on Mueller to testify. Let’s dive in!

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 18: U.S. Attorney General William Barr (C) speaks about the release of the redacted version of the Mueller report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019 in Washington, DC. Members of Congress are expected to receive copies of the report later this morning with the report being released publicly soon after. Also pictured (L-R) are Ed O’Callaghan, Acting Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)


Barr’s presser

Hour and a half before the redacted Mueller report was released, Attorney General Bill Barr held a press conference in which he “acted more as a defense attorney for Mr. Trump than as the leader of the Justice Department,” Mark Landler wrote in The New York Times. Many echoed this sentiment, including presidential candidates Senators Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren.

The Mueller report

The Mueller report is a 448-page document in two volumes, the first focusing on the question of collusion with the Russian government and the second focusing on obstruction of justice. The Washington Post published the full document, as well as an annotated version. There is also a searchable PDF document available here.

  • On collusion: The Special Counsel found that “[i]n some instances, the [Trump] Campaign was receptive to the offer” of Russian assistance. However, “[u]ltimately, the investigation did not establish that the Campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government in its election-interference activities.” [Vol. 1, p. 173].
  • On obstruction: The Special Counsel cannot clear Trump of obstruction, saying “[i]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” [Vol. 2, p. 2]. The Washington Post described the 10 episodes of possible obstruction of justice described in the report, including firing James Comey and ordering then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller.
  • Mueller aimed to punt the obstruction question to Congress: The report states, “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” [Vol. 2, p. 8].
  • Open matters: Potential criminal activity that was outside the scope of the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction was referred to other law enforcement authorities. Though largely redacted, there are 14 criminal cases listed as referred to other offices. As NBC News explains, the public only knows of two of these cases – one involving Michael Cohen and the other involving former Obama White House counsel Greg Craig.

Trump’s written responses

Included in Mueller’s report are 23 pages of Mueller’s written questions and Donald Trump’s written responses, reproduced by the Associated Press. As noted by The Hill, Trump claimed not to remember events 37 times in his answers to Mueller’s questions. Mueller’s team was not satisfied with Trump’s written answers, saying that they asked Trump’s legal counsel “again” for an in-person interview on matters of obstruction, but were denied [p. C-1]. The Special Counsel goes on to explain that though compelling Trump’s testimony through a subpoena was considered, it was ultimately decided that the likely court battle would delay the investigation and it was not worth pursuing [p. C-2].

Congressional response

Following Bill Barr’s press conference, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff each sent a letter to Robert Mueller formally requesting he testify before their respective committees.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer issued a joint response calling for Mueller to publicly testify “as soon as possible.” In a second statement, the two Democratic leaders criticized Attorney General Bill Barr’s handling of Mueller’s report, saying he “presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell released a statement thanking Barr for his “diligent work to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as possible to Congress and to the American people.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also released a statement, saying: “Nothing we saw today changes the underlying results of the 22-month long Mueller investigation that ultimately found no collusion.”

Democratic House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said in a CNN interview that “going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point.” He added that it’s up to the American people to “make a judgment” in the 2020 election.

WASHINGTON, DC – APRIL 09: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) departs after speaking during a news conference on April 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. House Democrats unveiled new letters to the Attorney General, HHS Secretary, and the White House demanding the production of documents related to Americans health care in the Texas v. United States lawsuit. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Barr Report v. Mueller Report

Following the release of the report, Bill Barr’s description of Mueller’s findings was contrasted with what the report actually stated. In a post for Just Security, former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa argues that “Barr obscured and mischaracterized the bases upon which Mueller declined to reach a prosecutorial decision on whether President Trump committed the crime of obstruction.”

Rangappa continues to explain that unsettled legal questions, such as the Justice Department’s policy not to charge sitting presidents, “constrained [Mueller] from accusing the president in the form of recommended charges.” Finally, she notes that “Mueller makes clear that his findings were intended for independent evaluation by Congress, or by future prosecutors — not by Barr himself.”

Consequences of Mueller’s punt

Writing in The Atlantic, George Washington University Law School lecturer Paul Rosenzweig argues that while the Justice Department’s policy against indicting a sitting president stopped Mueller from bringing charges against Trump, Mueller should have made a call on obstruction of justice. “For in elevating the institution of the president above the rule of law, Mueller has done a disservice to the nation,” he writes.

What’s next?

In an op-ed for The New York Times, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Noah Bookbinder, calls for the House Judiciary Committee to “pick up where Mr. Mueller left off and begin holding proceedings to determine whether Mr. Trump abused the powers of his office.” Bookbinder argues the report provides “egregious evidence of obstruction” and it falls to Congress “to consider whether Mr. Trump violated his constitutional obligations to the American people.”

What else?

  • A day before the release of the redacted Mueller report, George Papadopoulos wrote an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal agreeing with Bill Barr’s assertion before Congress that “spying” on the Trump campaign occurred. Papadopoulos calls on Barr to investigate three people he accuses of spying on him: Cambridge professor Stefan Halper, Australian diplomat Alexander Downer, and Maltese professor Joseph Mifsud.
  • Los Angeles-based financier Imaad Zuberi, who was reportedly subpoenaed by SDNY months ago as part of the investigation into Trump’s inaugural committee, is also under scrutiny in California. The Wall Street Journal reported that Los Angeles investigators have asked Zuberi for records concerning foreign business and tax issues related to his companies.
  • As reported by The Washington Post, the House Judiciary Committee opened an investigation into reports that Trump told acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan to break immigration law and then promised to pardon him if he faced legal consequences for following the order.

Stay Informed,

Adrienne Cobb & the CAFE team

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