The Corner

White House

‘Not Exonerated’ Is Not a Standard Any Free Country Should Accept

Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after delivering a statement on his investigation at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., May 29, 2019. (Jim Bourg/Reuters)

I’m sorry to be a broken record on this, but this line from Robert Mueller infuriates me:

That’s not how it works in America. Investigators are supposed to look for evidence that a crime was committed, and, if they don’t find enough to contend that a crime was a committed, they are supposed to say “We didn’t find enough to contend that a crime was committed. They are not supposed to look for evidence that a crime was not committed and then say, “We couldn’t find evidence of innocence.

I understand that Mueller was in an odd position. I understand, too, that this wasn’t a criminal trial. But I don’t think those norms are rendered any less important by those facts. By asking the executive to investigate itself, it was guaranteed — yes, guaranteed — that we’d have a fight over obstruction of justice. For the architect of that investigation to keep saying “We aren’t exonerating our target is extraordinary. Innocence is the default position in this country. If a person doesn’t have enough evidence that someone committed a crime to contend that a crime was committed, he is obliged to presume his innocence. Not exonerated is not a standard in our system, and it shouldn’t be one in our culture, either.


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