On Wednesday, Robert Mueller gave his first public comments since taking over the investigation into Russia’s effort to hack the 2016 election for Donald Trump. In so doing, Mueller not only proved he was more than worthy of the job of leading one of the most consequential investigations in recent memory, but utterly demolished the blatant alternative facting churned out by Trump and his apologists since the release of his findings.
For almost two months, Trump and his acolytes have insisted that Mueller completely exonerated Trump of any effort to obstruct the investigation–or as they put it, “no collusion, no obstruction!” Never mind that Mueller’s report explicitly stated that while his report did not conclude Trump broke the law, “it also does not exonerate him.”
Mueller disposed of this urban myth in a firm manner, saying that “if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Anyone who read the Mueller report would have found evidence of behavior that skated extremely close to the bar below which the rest of us would go to jail, and in some cases went several miles over it.
And yet, Mueller concluded he could not indict Trump. He cited “long-standing (Justice) Department policy” that holds indicting a sitting president is “unconstitutional”–even by way of a sealed indictment. He claimed that the proper remedy is “a process outside the criminal-justice system.” That can only be described as a pretty loud suggestion that this matter is worthy of an impeachment inquiry.
Despite the White House’s breathtaking insistence that Mueller had reiterated the “no collusion, no obstruction” canard, a number of right-wing talking heads knew otherwise. And oh, how they howled. That didn’t stop them from ramping up the alternative fact machine. Take Sebastian Gorka, for instance.
On his radio show, Gorka called Mueller a “disgrace” for speaking on the “innocence, or lack of innocence” of someone who hasn’t been charged of a crime. Apparently Gorka hasn’t been paying attention. There are numerous instances of police and prosecutors criticizing someone’s behavior while concluding that it doesn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense–or at least, not one that can be proven beyond reasonable doubt.
Tucker Carlson was almost as unhinged later that night.
Carlson claimed that Mueller’s press conference was directed at “a very small group of elected officials in Washington.” Um, Tucker? Did you not hear that Mueller was so upset at Attorney General William Barr’s failure to “capture the context” of his report that he actually wrote a letter to Barr about it? According to former federal prosecutor Chuck Rosenberg, writing letters, or “going to paper,” is a pretty extraordinary step at the DOJ.
Did you also not hear that a number of Mueller’s aides claimed even before then that the report was more damning than Barr made it out to be? Considering how tight-lipped Mueller’s office was over the past two years, that’s saying something.
But as unhinged as Gorka, Carlson and other Trumpkins were, they couldn’t hold a candle to the reaction of American Family Radio afternoon drive-time host Bryan Fischer. In a column for the American Family Association’s official blog, The Stand, Fischer said–with a straight face–that Mueller’s press conference proved that he is a coward worthy of national infamy.
Fischer claimed Mueller’s press conference was “an attempted political assassination” carried out by “a bad guy firing political bullets” at Trump before “disappearing.” To Fischer’s mind, Mueller showed he was a “true coward” by making his announcement while Trump was still in Japan and Barr was vacationing in Alaska. He also argued that the report offered more proof that Mueller was “bent” by making “inferences and implications” about Trump’s behavior.
Um, Bryan? If you read Mueller’s report, you would have seen that Trump lied about his contacts with the Kremlin, repeatedly tried to bully the FBI and Justice Department into ending the investigation, and made several attempts to have Mueller fired. They would have also seen that Trump actively tried to protect his son from scrutiny over the Trump Tower meeting, and actively tried to tamper with Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen when he knew they were cooperating with the investigation.
And yet, in the face of all of this, Fischer somehow likened Mueller to Robert Ford, the man who was initially celebrated for killing Jesse James before it emerged that he’d shot an unarmed James from behind. He noted that when James’ mother buried her son, she noted on his headstone that he had died at the hand of “a traitor and a coward whose name is not worthy to appear here.” Likewise, Fischer claims that Mueller deserves the same opprobrium as “other traitors and cowards whose names are not worthy to be spoken in public.”
Fischer must have been reading a different report than the rest of us. It’s hard not to conclude that the only reason Mueller didn’t feel he could break precedent is that Trump’s own aides disobeyed some of Trump’s more egregious orders, knowing that they themselves would have faced criminal liability had they complied. It would have been difficult to justify indicting the soldiers and capos in the face of clear evidence that they received orders directly from the boss.
As a result of that report, we have more evidence of the depraved culture inside this White House. Spelling that out can only be described as an act of courage, not an act of cowardice. And for that, Mueller deserves the nation’s applause.
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