|COLIN ANDERSON / ALEX WONG / GETTY / PAUL SPELLA / THE ATLANTIC|
Will the real Robert Mueller please stand up?
Well, he did on Wednesday morning in nine minutes of no-questions-allowed farewell remarks from the podium at the Justice Department, only his second public statement since May 18, 2017 when he was appointed special counsel in the wake of Donald Trump's axing of FBI Director James Comey and took over the Russian scandal investigation, briefly remarking then that "I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability."
Beyond the mild shock of what Mueller's voice actually sounds like, we were reminded that he is first and foremost a gentleman, a rarity in an era of charlatans and rogues, but alas not a superman riding to the rescue of liberals who foolishly believed his 448-page final report on the scandal would save the republic by driving Trump from office.
The departing special counsel, his work completed and return to private life imminent after two extraordinarily leak-free years, says he will not say anything to Congress, if compelled to testify, beyond what his report says. Democratic congressional leaders, undoubtedly dismayed by that pledge, said that they hoped to not have to compel Mueller to testify, but a subpoena remains an option.
Mueller did reiterate what the report does say, which has been obscured by Trump's tweetstorms and Attorney General William Barr's whitewashing, which included his unsubstantiated claim that there was "no collusion" between the Trump campaign and Russia.
In conveying accurately, if briefly, the findings of a report that is the ultimate authority on the scandal but most Americans nevertheless have not bothered to read, Mueller said that:
* Russia made multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in the 2016 election.
* If he did not believe Trump committed a crime, he would have said so.
* While a sitting president cannot be indicted, Congress has a follow-up role.
* He had the right to investigate the issue of obstruction of justice.
* He does not question Barr's decision to not initially release the report.
Mueller said he was "speaking out today because our investigation is complete," adding that he hoped "this will be the only time I will speak to you in this manner."
"I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple, systemic efforts to interfere in our election," he said in an allusion to the 2020 election and the indifference of Trump and congressional Republicans to ongoing and future Russian meddling. "And that allegation deserves the attention of every American."
Trump yet again claimed vindication, tweeting shortly after Mueller spoke that "Nothing changes from the Mueller Report. There was insufficient evidence and therefore, in our Country, a person is innocent. The case is closed! Thank you."
Meanwhile, Republicans circled their wagons around Trump.
"Today's statement by Mr. Mueller reinforces the findings of his report. And as for me, the case is over," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a critic turned reliable ally of the president. "Mr. Mueller has decided to move on and let the report speak for itself. Congress should follow his lead."
Mueller, of course, was not suggesting any such thing, and Congress does have a clear, constitutionally-mandated option. It's called impeachment, and on Wednesday afternoon Corey Booker and Julián Castro joined six other Democratic presidential candidates in endorsing that avenue.
The special counsel's investigation was not a witch hunt by any stretch of the imagination.
It found that Trump and 18 of his associates had at least 140 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, during the campaign and presidential transition. Longtime lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen had at least 25 contacts, Donald Trump Jr. at least 17, and Trump himself at least 13.
It involved 2,800 subpoenas, 500 witnesses and 500 search warrants leading to 199 individual criminal counts obtained against 34 people, 26 of them Russian intelligence agents, hackers and trolls, and three Russian companies, admissions of guilt by six individuals and still outstanding indictments covering identity theft, money laundering, obstruction, witness tampering, lying to investigators and conspiracy.
Cohen and former campaign manager Paul Manafort are in prison and Roger Stone, Trump's longest-serving political adviser, is headed there, while there are 29 ongoing congressional, federal and state investigations. Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 former federal prosecutors signed an open letter saying that Mueller laid out sufficient evidence in his report to make an obstruction case.
In the end, perhaps a gentleman who deeply values integrity really is a hero -- if not a super hero with super powers -- in this day and age.
But the problem is that Donald Trump has not been driven from office and could well be reelected. Robert Mueller's reluctance to appear before Congress because he has discharged his official responsibilities, albeit with admirable rectitude, is based on a vision of an America that pretty much no longer exists.
Click HERE for Mueller's full statement.
Click HERE for a searchable version of the Mueller report.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.