Editorial: The blindness of Robert Mueller
They say justice is blind. So too, it seems, is Robert Mueller III.
The former special counsel is a good man with many good attributes. Honesty, integrity and seriousness of purpose are among them. But Mueller seems blind to what the country needs right now.
It needs clarity.
Mueller, it appears, will not provide it. He spoke publicly and briefly last week, mainly to say that he doesn’t want to speak. Mueller largely reiterated items that already were in the publicly released version of his report on Russian interference in American elections. At least one of his reiterations should provide some clarity: He has not exonerated President Trump on the matter of obstruction of justice.
“If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so,” Mueller said.
While that statement has gotten a lot of attention, it really is not helpful to the country. It simply doesn’t go far enough. The public deserves to know whether Mueller found enough evidence to charge the president with the crime of obstruction, if the constitution would allow a sitting president to be criminally charged. Or, did Mueller determine that there was evidence of obstruction but not enough that would have led to charges, a situation that is quite common in the justice system? What Mueller has shared is that the evidence does not allow him to state the president hasn’t committed the crime of obstruction.
In this sense, Mueller has us playing a game of Clue. He’s told us that the murder weapon isn’t the candlestick, but it is up to us to figure out the rest. He’s washed his hands of it.
It shouldn’t be this way. Mueller should recognize that he’s at a moment in history where his particular set of skills are needed by the country. Mueller, by far, has been the least partisan actor in this entire investigation. He’s a Republican, appointed by a Republican administration, but still has the respect of Democrats because his past actions as a prosecutor have demonstrated integrity.
He has the best chance to do what Congress cannot. An impeachment investigation led by House Democrats will be dismissed by about half the electorate, just as the other half of the electorate has dismissed Attorney General and political appointee William Barr’s conclusion that the evidence does not support obstruction of justice by the president.
Perhaps the result would be the same with Mueller — half the electorate would dismiss him. America perhaps is incurably consumed by partisanship. But Mueller ought to share his true findings so that we can find out. Would enough Republicans join Democrats in an impeachment effort if Mueller said there was enough evidence to charge the president with obstruction? It is a question that has importance beyond the current president.
Alternatively, if Mueller stated the case simply can’t be made, would enough Democrats accept the finding so that the nation’s political discourse can move on to other important topics? If this issue causes America to become a broken record — one that repeats and repeats the same note — the country will become broken in other ways.
But Mueller refuses to move the needle. His integrity works against him. He thinks it would be unfair to say whether the evidence supports a charge, if he can’t actually charge the president and let him have his day in court. On this too, Mueller is blind. Every day is court for a president.
Mueller should do his best to provide clarity, which is far more than what he is doing now. If he doesn’t, he too will end up judged. History will find him to have been the wrong man for an important job.