Editorial: Next step in Mueller probe: Full disclosure
Special counsel Robert Mueller has submitted his long-awaited report into allegations that President Donald Trump had “conspired or colluded” with Russia to win the 2016 presidential election and whether he had obstructed justice during the investigation. Trump claimed victory. His opponents said things were not that clear cut.
So this matter is not over and settled as the 2020 election cycle begins. It has merely moved into another round.
Mueller did not release his report to the public. He submitted it to Attorney General William Barr, who released a four-page summary. According to Barr, Mueller found no evidence to support a charge of collusion. As for obstruction of justice, Mueller’s report gave evidence for and against a recommendation and left the decision to Barr.
Barr’s letter said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein reviewed the evidence Mueller gave them and decided it was “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Barr was nominated by Trump for the attorney general’s post in December. Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May 2017 and oversaw much of his work.
The president’s critics did not get the smoking gun they yearned for, but that does not mean they are walking slowly with their heads bowed and meekly asking forgiveness from the president’s supporters. The president’s supporters are claiming victory, of course.
Now it’s time for Barr and the other appropriate officials to go through the report, redact what by law must be redacted, and make the Mueller report public. Taxpayers have invested more than two years and $20 million into this effort that has so far produced, according to CNN, 199 overall criminal indictments, 37 people and entities charged, seven people pleading guilty, one person convicted at trial and five people sentenced to prison. The investigation did not result in or recommend any criminal charges against the president or his family members.
Barr himself said that is his plan.
“I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies,” he wrote.
When Barr releases the Mueller report, he should include the part that includes why Mueller, in Barr’s words, “ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” regarding obstruction of justice. Democrats in Congress have vowed to get that answer on the record.
One other thing in this whole affair should be considered. As with the Ken Starr investigation into then-President Bill Clinton two decades ago, the president and his family have so far escaped any criminal charges, but people lower in the chain of command weren’t so fortunate. Unless a person is extremely close to a sitting president, they can be a target of a special prosecutor. They can be squeezed for information and rack up thousands of dollars in legal bills while the president and his closest family and friends suffer no consequences. Or they can have their embarrassing moments brought to public light and for the rest of their lives be an easy punchline for a late-night comedian.
What sane person would want to work for a president or a presidential candidate under those circumstances?