Every time new information from or about Robert Mueller comes out, we scramble to assess what it means, what was said and if it gives us more hope of finally holding Trump accountable for...something. As a legal professional, I’ve been telling everyone that Mueller was not going to be the heroic figure they’d concocted to give them some sense of hope, and trust me it has not been a popular view. It’s been pretty well established for a while that the indictment of a sitting president was not an option for many established legal scholars and practitioners. It was also pretty obvious that no one, particularly someone as conservative as Mueller, was going to want to guinea pig this law with Trump for the first time. So Mueller’s conclusion, that he could not assess whether Trump could be indicted because the law did not support indicting a sitting president, was frustrating but predictable. But what wasn’t foreseeable was all of the evidence Mueller would provide against Trump in his report that would satisfy an indictment.
It’s not surprising that Mueller said nothing new yesterday in his first public press conference. What is most surprising to me is how well he said nothing new. The most important take-aways were the statements he made at the beginning and the end. His previous conclusion in the Mueller Report, reads:
“Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President's conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” (Special Counsel Report On the Investigation Into Russian Interference In the 2016 Presidential Election, Volume II, page 8)
Mueller reiterated this conclusion at the beginning of his press conference yesterday by saying, "As set forth in the report, if we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the president did commit a crime." Mueller also emphasized what was already contained in his report by closing with, “I will close by re-iterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American." Indeed, the report itself spends hundreds of pages detailing all of the ways in which Russia attempted and did interfere and provides an investigative roadmap for Congress or the courts.
Despite the restatements and extra emphasis placed on what Mueller felt should be our biggest take-ways from his work, there were also some things missing. Why was this press conference seemingly called without real notice to the public. Surely Mueller’s resignation date had been calculable for some time, so why so last minute? Also, there was no direct statement at the podium from Mueller about the misleading four page memo written by Attorney General William Barr that inaccurately summarized Mueller’s work, even though we had credible leaks that Mueller was reportedly upset by Barr’s assessment. We also heard nothing about Mueller’s response memo to Barr that claimed the attorney general “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance" of the investigation. Instead, Mueller emphasized in his presser that no one, including the Department of Justice or the attorney general, had instructed him or limited him in any capacity in terms of speaking about the report. Mueller said nothing contradictory about any of the recent alarming actions of Attorney General Barr while at that podium yesterday.
This is Olympic-level nuance that goes so deep it almost seems like an instinctual need for manipulation, as if he’s always keeping an opponent guessing for self-preservation.
There was also a subsequent handout to the press that was circulated from Mueller’s Office after the press conference, that contained supposedly dueling statements from both Barr and Mueller. The lack of access to this document makes it difficult to analyze what is really being offered and the fact that no one in the media is really discussing it or providing it to the public is a little concerning. With what little I have assessed of it, it looks like a double interview format and kind of seems silly and odd, which in the grand scheme of this whole thing, is nothing new.
On a lighter note, my read on Mueller personally was much more substantial once I saw him speak. By reading his work, or getting leaks on his possible motivations I could still never really get a sense of who he is as a man. After hearing his statements yesterday, I have no doubt that his cryptic inclinations are not something that ever leave him. He is not a man who bluntly gives yes or no answers. Most good lawyers are not, granted, but this seems to go much farther beyond that standard. This is Olympic-level nuance that goes so deep it almost seems like an instinctual need for manipulation, as if he’s always keeping an opponent guessing for self-preservation. His appearance yesterday made it clear that his written manner is really just an extension of himself and who he is personally rather than a professional aspect used at the appropriate times. I can’t even begin to guess what his wife goes through when she wants to ask him, “Honey, whatcha thinkin?”
I’m tired of dissecting Robert Mueller. Mostly because it’s really complicated and nearly impossible to do confidently, but also because the double negatives make my head spin.
In a time where politics has become our communal entertainment, it’s understandable that the public wants more from Mueller so it can be re-assessed, rewatched and commented on like a Real Housewives Reunion. But Mueller stated from the podium yesterday that his testimony before Congress would be a waste of time and as someone who loves to dissect every detail, I’m even over it. The truth is that despite our need to re-hash everything to death, the Mueller Report itself acts as the best transcript of any testimony we might get from him. The fact that the majority of the public has an aversion to reading and prefers televised events shouldn’t be the foundation for us not getting on with things.
I’m tired of dissecting Robert Mueller. Mostly because it’s really complicated and nearly impossible to do confidently, but also because the double negatives make my head spin. It’s like continuing to ask a question that’s already been answered over and over and over and I feel like instinctively shouting out, “Objection! Asked and answered.” In terms of the formal investigation that continues, we have all the answers we need to move forward, so let’s be done with Mueller for now.
Amee Vanderpool writes the “Shero and a Scholar” Newsletter and is an attorney, contributor to Playboy Magazine, analyst for BBC radio and Director of The Inanna Project. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @girlsreallyrule.