Monday, January 21, 2019

Did Mueller Have A Comey Moment? No, But He's Also Not Going To Bail Us Out

This just in, America: Robert Mueller is not going to save us from ourselves, let alone necessarily save us from Donald Trump. 
Our adulation of the circumspect special counsel and belief he's going to mete out the long overdue justice we crave so badly has become an excuse for the people who should be doing something to not do anything.  But as my old friend and columnist Will Bunch bluntly puts it, "America cannot Mueller its way out of its problems." 
The occasion for this unpleasant if timely reminder was publication of a story last Thursday by BuzzFeed News alleging that federal prosecutors have evidence that Trump had "directed" Michael Cohen, his ex-lawyer and fixer turned government witness, to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 presidential campaign, which would have netted him upwards of a cool $300 million through a name-licensing deal.   
The story was breathlessly described by the news media and talking-head legal punditocracy as the proverbial smoking gun that would end the Trump presidency, but on Friday evening the special counsel’s office issued a terse statement -- it's first in Mueller's entire 20-month investigation concerning any news story -- stating that elements of the BuzzFeed story were "not accurate." 
It is my belief that the story was right as rain in substance but peripherals regarding what Cohen told whom and what emails, documents and other source evidence came into play may have been inaccurate, and/or a pissing match between prosecutors for the special counsel's office and Southern District of New York prompted the statement.  Or it was meant to be diversionary for a not-obvious reason.
In any event, the statement did not debunk the story's substance, something that was pretty much overlooked amidst the ensuing shocks and alarums in the selfsame news media and legal punditocracy as they raced away en masse from their smoking gun hangout. 
You would have thought that Mueller had just put a dagger through any chance of running Trump out if town, not unlike then-FBI Director James Comey's statement 11 days before the election that the Hillary Clinton email investigation was being reopened.  This effectively doomed a candidacy already on life support because of Russia's extensive cyberespionage efforts, which of course were being carried out with the assistance of the Trump campaign and knowledge of the man himself. 
Trump and the White House were beside themselves with glee in declaring the BuzzFeed story "fake news."  As had the Nixon White House after future journalistic legends Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein made a small and inconsequential error in an October 1972 Washington Post story about White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman's involvement in a secret Nixon reelection campaign cash fund.   
At first, the Haldeman error seemed to derail The WaPo's investigation into widespread lawbreaking by the Nixon administration and reelection campaign as Nixon's handlers used the error to disparage all of the newspaper's Watergate reporting, which is exactly what Trump has done in impugning all Russia scandal stories whenever there is a slip-up in one of them.  Woodward and Bernstein did figure out the source of their error, corrected the story and went on to force Nixon's hand -- and eventual resignation under threat of impeachment. 
Adding fuel to the "fake news" fire was a ridiculous story in the WaPo over the weekend suggesting that the Mueller statement was issued because Democrats were discussing impeachment, the implication being that the special prosecutor and his team don't want Congress impeding their efforts. 
Even if I'm incorrect and the BuzzFeed story is wrong in substance and not just its peripherals, giving Trump a fleeting opportunity to crow, we know that Trump has lied about countless other things (some 8,158 false or misleading claims in two years, according to that WaPo) and has repeatedly suborned perjury, notably but in a ham-handed effort to cover up the real purpose of the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian cutouts who had dirt on Clinton by ghost writing a false statement for son Donald Jr. 
And speaking of lies, I've lost count of the shifting explanations of when Trump Tower Moscow negotiations ended.   
First it was January 2016.  Then it was June 2016.  Then it was at some later point.  Then on Sunday, Rudy "Truth Isn't Truth" Giuliani parked his clown car at NBC News's "Meet the Press" long enough to put his own spin on the BuzzFeed story, quoting Trump as having said that negotiations for the hotel deal were "going on from the day I announced to the day I won."  Then on Monday, Giuliani attempted to walk back his comment as "purely hypothetical."   
So the BuzzFeed story certainly does not change anything.   But it is a timely reminder that Mueller alone is not going to end America's crisis of confidence, which is not going to vanish when and if Trump does.
This is not to diminish the three sentencings, one conviction at trial, seven guilty pleas and charges against 36 people and business entities -- 28 of them Russians -- with a total of 192 criminal counts that Mueller's prosecutorial team has cranked out in cinching the case that Russia interfered in the election in order to elect Trump and that Trump's campaign willingly helped. 
But Mueller cannot carry everyone's damned water.  That crisis of confidence is not just political.  Underlying it is a moral crisis that predates a racist president and policies such as locking up immigrants seeking asylum and taking their children away from them and confining them, as well.  
As I argue herethe people declaring that "the system" needs to be allowed to work and everyone should cool their jets until the 2020 election display a mind-exploding naiveté. Trump and his Vichy Republican henchmen certainly have not allowed the system to work and waiting two more excruciating years while "the system" continues to not work and the foundations of our democracy are further undermined is unacceptable.  It's time to begin impeachment proceedings fully cognizant that the process is political, not criminal, and will be long, messy and may not even have the desired outcome.  
Back to Will Bunch, who writes that:
I understand what the growing network of legal beagles who've become TV and internet stars say about [the BuzzFeed story] -- that Mueller is playing it by the book, and that releasing any information before every "i" is dotted and "t" is crossed might not only jeopardize future convictions but risk undermining the authority that Mueller's final report would need in order to convince such a politically polarized nation.  But the legal-industrial complex that takes over TV every night consists of carpenters looking at every Trump problem as a nail to be hammered by the criminal-justice system. . . .  
Let's stop waiting for Bob Mueller to come down from the mountaintop.  It's time for the American people, our leaders, and our battered system to relearn how to climb that mountain ourselves. 
Impeachment, not Robert Mueller, ultimately is the only protection we have against Trump, if not a start on everything else that ails us. 
So get on with it!

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.    


Bscharlott said...

Buzzfeed is standing by its story. So, is it simply the case that the anonymous officials used as sources in the story are with the Southern District of New York FBI office, not with Mueller's team, and the rebuttal is Mueller's way of reprimanding leakers? That was my first thought. Or another possibility: what if the information is indeed accurate but it came out in secret grand jury testimony and Mueller feels the need to protect the process? I mean, it seems extremely likely that Trump did in fact direct Cohen to lie. And something tells me some law enforcement office somewhere has damn good evidence of it.

Dan Leo said...

Thanks, Shaun – I was curious to hear your take on this flap. It was pretty funny how over on Breitbart the much-reviled Mueller suddenly became the hero, "if just for one day..."

Carol said...

Not sure how we're going to rid ourselves of Trump with or without the Mueller report as long as the Newt Gingrichian Republicans are still in charge in the Senate. Thanks for the reminder of the stumbles of Woodward and Bernstein in their quest to get to the truth of the Nixon administration's criminality, which was not nearly as blatant as what we know underlies every action of the present administration. It seems, however, that even damning evidence of Trump's deep venality, like that exposed in the NYTimes tax report and the lies The Post chronicles, is lost in the day-to-day chaos created by our narcissist in chief.

PM said...

Great blog post, Shaun. That Will Bunch is almost as wise and prescient a journalist as you. J

Random thought that won’t go away: I keep remembering Steve Bannon’s stated aim to bring down the government. It’s happening.

This, for me, was a real (not fiction) Kurt Vonnegut moment: The confluence of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King’s Birthday weekend, the Indigenous People’s March, the March For Life, all of which came together in a flashpoint of seeming opposition in the persons of a young, white, privileged MAGA boy and a Native American Viet vet elder (Keeper of the Sacred Pipe no less.) I have yet to grok the full extent of the ripples and resonances: you would undoubtedly express it better.

Laura in IA said...

This is exhausting. The man belongs behind bars before he completely destroys this country. Maybe we need to refocus on how we got here and do what we can to make sure it does not happen again. Another cause I just read about is that there are at least 65,000 homeless college students. Our problems as a country are deeper than just the fight against Trump for destroying what we had.