Law & the Courts

Inside the Mueller Farce

Special counsel Robert Mueller delivers a statement on his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., May 29, 2019. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)
A fervently anti-Trump prosecutor unwittingly shows how bogus ‘Russiagate’ was.

The publication of Andrew Weissmann’s book Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation enables us to see what was always suspected by many to have been a fanatical determination on the part of the Mueller investigative team to destroy President Trump. The administration had to be destroyed because Mueller and his people didn’t like it, so it was necessary to find a legal excuse for doing so. That this is fundamentally unjust, contrary to all professed American legal traditions, and a constitutional outrage, never seems to register in the thoughts of the author. He was convinced from the beginning that Trump was a corrupt individual unworthy to hold the nation’s highest office, and the hell with the electorate and the Constitution. This has generally been Weissmann’s modus operandi throughout his long career as a prosecutorial eminence: Once he targets someone, no matter how capricious and uncorroborated his reasons for doing so, he focuses the full power of the state on bringing down his target. Antiquarian bourgeois notions such as the rights of suspected or accused people to defend themselves, and the need for government officials to accept reasonable guidelines for the exercise of their very wide powers, do not much enter into his thoughts.

Weissmann operated from the unspecified assumption that because Trump is clearly a morally deficient character whom Weissmann and his confrerie did not regard as suitable to be president, it was right that he should have riveted on his back, every day that he was president, an investigation determined to find that he had been improperly elected or, failing such determination, at least to provoke him into actions that could be represented as an impeachable obstruction of justice, whether in fact they met those criteria or not. The most astounding aspect of Weissmann’s book is the author’s complete un-self-consciousness and absolute conviction about his right and duty to destroy the president, not on the basis of adduced facts, but on the basis of constructing a tenuous or even fraudulent case that could be lifted over the hurdles necessary to drive him legally from office.

In proper totalitarian manner, Weissmann effortlessly dismisses all who do not immediately fall in with his crusade to dispose of the president as, themselves, lawless. Attorney General William Barr, who came late to the drama and was, as he remains, very uneasy about the origins of such a powerfully established and fiercely motivated attempt to prove the hypothesis of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin, for which there was ultimately not a shred of evidence, is portrayed as completely cynical and profoundly dishonest. All such laggards were dismissed as venal, cowardly, criminally motivated, or a combination of these, including most Republicans and the few journalists who kept an open mind, especially at Fox News.

Weissmann takes the fact that there were numerous contacts between officials of the Trump campaign and what are called “Russian assets” as proof of a criminal conspiracy to rig the election — again, despite the absence of supportive evidence. Weissmann believes that if Mueller had not been a gentleman who believed in compliance with the limitations imposed by the rules of criminal procedure, an impeachable offense would have been proclaimed from the innocuous nonsense that Mueller invited the House of Representatives to consider as possible obstruction of justice. He believed Trump’s conduct to be criminal, as if no one else would have been impatient with this interminable and chronically indiscreet persecution, emitting almost daily leaks that “the walls are closing in” on the president. He reproaches Mueller for not having continued indefinitely (it was a massively comprehensive and expensive inquiry that rumbled on for over two years).

He reproaches the attorney general for issuing to the public the summary statement that no American was found to have colluded with the Russians to alter the election result, and that none of the facts cited by Mueller as potential evidence of obstruction met the necessary criteria of criminally intended interference with a criminal investigation in contemplation of a criminal proceeding. To Weissmann, obstruction is any statement, public or private, of disapproval of the conduct of the investigation by the person being chiefly investigated. He considers Mueller’s failure to go to the wall with the bunk about obstruction as shameful toadying to the president.

It is all unimaginably slapdash. If Paul Manafort, briefly the Trump campaign manager, had dinner with a person of Russian nationality, this brought Trump to the verge of an impeachable offense, no matter what the subject of the dinner and regardless of whether the president himself knew anything about it. As the failure of the attempt to find evidence of criminal collusion to alter the election results became clearer, Weissmann bulked up the numerous statements and actions of the president and members of his administration indicating their disparagement of the motives and integrity of the investigation as obstruction of justice, as if the fact that they did not like being investigated indefinitely and with endless leaks to the media implying that they were criminals, and that the “walls were closing in” on them, were a crime. At no point does Weissmann dispute the accuracy of Robert Mueller’s response to the question in sworn congressional testimony after publishing the report that the president did not obstruct the investigation. He has practically nothing to say about the fraudulent applications for FISA warrants to conduct illegal surveillance on the Trump campaign and transition team, as if this were unexceptionable conduct.

To anyone but the febrile Torquemada taking unto himself the powers of the Red Queen even over the chief of state and of government of his country, Mueller’s assertion that he had not been obstructed would have settled it. Trump was unlimitedly cooperative, except that he refused to answer questions other than in writing, in order to avoid a Michael Flynn–style perjury mousetrap. But Weissman, without explaining why, claims not only that the piffle cited constituted obstruction, but that the Supreme Court would definitely uphold a subpoena on the president (far from clear) and that Mueller should have indicted the president (contrary to longstanding Justice Department policy), even in the absence of serious inculpatory evidence. Mueller cannot be thanked for putting a bloodthirsty advocate of judicial terror in charge of his investigation, one who was prepared to go to any lengths to harass and accuse the president, and even to charge him directly in defiance of all precedent, without remotely persuasive evidence. If Mueller had engaged reasonable people, his investigation would have ended a year earlier in an unambiguous clearance of the president. But Mueller, even as he faded into vagueness, must be praised for not allowing Weissmann to drag the entire American system of government into disrepute and confusion. Trump is right that a disgrace like this must never be inflicted on another president. Weissmann should be obliged to go about wearing bells like a medieval leper to warn the unsuspecting of his approach.

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