By Chandra K. Mittal, Ph.D.
Houston, TX: While President Donald Trump, in his hyperbolic demeanor, might have declared Robert Mueller Investigation Report on his purported involvement with Russian Interference in 2016 Presidential Election as a “total and complete” exoneration, in really it is anything but that. When ones close advisers and associates in an enterprise (i.e. 2016 campaign) are indicted and imprisoned for lying to a federal agency like FBI, one can’t declare himself innocent and exonerated.
It is true that Mueller did not or could not indict the President of collusion with the Russians, he did not “exonerate” the President of his involvement in the “obstruction of justice”. This charge has been indeed dismissed by the Attorney General William Barr, a political appointee, who was already opposed to the Mueller’s Russian probe and who (predictably) did not find enough legal grounds to charge President Trump of “obstruction of justice”.
Fact also remains that President Trump, the principal subject of the Russian probe, could not be personally interviewed by prosecutor Robert Mueller due to noncooperation and reluctance of the Attorney General who is member of the Executive branch of the government and had authority over Robert Mueller actions. In essence this conflict of interest by the AG and inability of Mueller to interview the President might have impacted the whole complexion of the probe and the conclusions derived from it. Under these circumstance Donald Trump can hardly claim exoneration in public opinion when many of his close campaign associates are either indicted of crimes or are headed to serve the jail time for their criminal conduct.
The Mueller Report Summary as conveyed by US Attorney General William Barr to the United States Congress is as murky as it is evasive. It does not answer with clarity (perhaps purposely) whether President Trump indeed committed obstruction of justice. The report lacks final prosecutorial judgment by Special Counsel Mueller. He instead left it to the Attorney General William Barr or the United States Congress to make the final determination on President Trump’s culpability in any criminal act.
The quotation from Mueller’s Report “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” as conveyed by AG Barr to the US Congress, is indeed a lightning rod and intriguing as it creates serious doubts and casts aspersions on Robert Mueller’s independence in carrying out the investigation, which might have prevented him from issuing a definitive conclusion on the criminality.
It could also be that Robert Mueller was inductively influenced by the Attorney General or felt his hands tied due to Department of Justice (DOJ) rules that a sitting President could not be indicted of a crime, which prompted him to issue such a statement about the President. In either case, Robert Mueller’s Reports does not look objective.
Lack of clarity in Robert Mueller’s conclusions about Donald Trump’s role in the obstruction of justice, his inability to interview President Trump, suspected manipulations and exoneration of President by the Attorney General on technical grounds, and indictments and/or imprisonment of several Donald Trump’s campaign associates in the Russian probe have all created a national crisis of public confidence in the government and its custodians.
It is hard for many Americans to believe how the principal subject (Donald Trump) of the probe could be innocent when his campaign associates have been punished for lying to the federal investigators and committing crimes. Does one ever lie if not to mask the truth? Hence, Americans in overwhelming numbers are asking for full disclosure of Mueller report in the interest of complete transparency.
It is only for reasons of transparency as well as the oversight functions of the US Congress over the Executive branch that Congress unanimously passed a bill for public release of the Mueller Report even before Mueller report came out. But now with Mueller’s decision not to exonerate President Trump has complicated the matter and has given further impetus and rationale to US Congress to resolve the puzzle of “obstruction of justice” by the President. So, now Congress is demanding the US Attorney General to provide supporting documents and investigative data used by him or Robert Mueller to reach the conclusions on the whole investigation.
On his part President Trump, his supporters and the conservative media continue to claim complete and total exoneration on both the collusion and obstruction of justice charges, which is not compatible with the view of majority Democrats in the Congress. And such opposite stands by the President and the Congress are likely to result in a long-drawn battle between the two sides for the Mueller investigation documents that are all controlled by the Executive branch, and are not likely to be shared without Court’s intervention.
Fact also remains that since the election of 2016 Republican majority in both House and Senate and control of Presidency led the country by alienating the Democrats. Now that Democrats have majority in the House, they are trying to settle some old scores. However, both behaviors are destructive and unacceptable.
It is not since 1974, when President Richard Nixon resigned in disgraced due to obstruction of justice, that America has witnessed such a chaotic and unruly political environment which President Gerald Ford later called “national nightmare”. America can’t afford another “nightmare” in current times when the world looks up to it for both moral and political leadership.
It is, therefore, perhaps time for both the Democrats and Republicans to shed the politics of revenge and retribution, and rise above the partisanship in national interest. Both parties need to come together to create an independent commission to look at all the oddities in the Robert Mueller investigation and settle/resolve them in a bipartisan manner. Only such constructive and positive approach and bipartisan spirit can bring political peace in America.
(Dr. Chandra Mittal is Professor at Houston Community College, Op-Ed Columnist, and Co-Founder of Indo-American Association (IAA)-Houston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
By Chandra K. Mittal, Ph.D.