Breaking: Mueller Finishes Investigation

Ken AshfordCrime, L'Affaire Russe, Trump & AdministrationLeave a Comment

Mueller has concluded his investigation and turned in his report to AG Bill Barr. Nothing is known about except this: there are no more indictments to hand down.

Conservatives are ecstatic and progressives not, except . . . well, the smarter ones on both sides know that the end of the Mueller investigation is not the end of the scandal. We don’t know, for example, if there was evidence of collusion — just not enough to prosecute — or what. Mueller, unlike Comey when looking into Hillary, is not going before the press to explain what he knows.

The Justice Department has notified Congress and Barr told the press that he may notify Congress of the inquiry’s “principal conclusions as soon as this weekend.” The only problem: Barr has full discretion about how much of the report to reveal publicly.

By the Washington Post’s tally, the special counsel’s investigation has resulted in criminal charges against 34 individuals. That number includes four campaign officials and advisers: former Chairman Paul Manafort, Deputy Campaign Manager Rick Gates, adviser George Papadopoulos, and self-described “dirty trickster” Roger Stone. It also includes the president’s former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and former personal attorney Michael Cohen. The vast majority of the rest of the indictees are Russian nationals, many of them directly tied to the DNC computer hackings and distribution of propaganda during the 2016 election.

The central mission of the special counsel investigation was to discover if any members of the Trump campaign – including, most importantly, Trump himself – conspired with Russia to meddle in the election. None of the Americans charged by Mueller are accused of that. Still, while Mueller appears to be done with his probe, Congress will likely continue its own investigations based off his findings—whether or not Barr provides enough details to Congress.

Barr should release the full report. Both parties appear to support this. Last week, the House voted unanimously on a nonbinding resolution to make the entire document—and supporting materials—public. The real test will be whether reflexively pliant GOP lawmakers have to defy any presidential grumblings. We’ll find out soon enough.

One thing to remember: the Mueller report is not a legal document. It is an investigative document with some legal, and some political, ramifications.

And there is no realm of public life in which we insist on using absolute legal standards in order to make non-legal judgments. And we couldn’t even if we wanted to, because legal standards vary widely. To wit: Different legal proceedings impose different burdens of proof. There’s a reason that in courts sometimes the law requires “substantial evidence,” sometimes “reasonable belief,” and sometimes belief “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

As the public surveys the Mueller report, we are not bound to use legal procedures to come to our conclusions about Donald Trump. If the origins of the investigation were, in fact, improper—and yet the investigation reveals substantial wrongdoing, the public is not required to overlook this wrongdoing just because a court of law might be required to do so.

Spoiler: The court of public opinion isn’t a real court.