During his morning press conference, Attorney General William Barr explicitly said that special counsel Robert Mueller had not left it to Congress to determine whether Donald Trump was guilty of obstruction. Barr lied. Again and again in his report, Mueller references the power of Congress—and makes it clear that the finding that Trump did not commit obstruction is all about the limitations on the DOJ as a part of the executive branch.
For 22 pages, the report does nothing but review the applicability of Department of Justice regulations on indicting a sitting executive and look at how they apply to a charge of obstruction. Mueller begins by noting that Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation were “mostly unsuccessful,” not because he didn’t try, but because people “declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” But it’s clear that Trump attempted to obstruct. Because the remainder of the section isn’t about Trump’s actions, but about the ability of the special counsel to apply charges.
Starting with the constitutional assertion made by Trump’s legal team that firing the FBI director or even directly closing the investigation wouldn’t be obstruction because the DOJ is under Trump’s Article II authority, Mueller spends the next dozen pages examining past obstruction cases and eventually concludes that “an argument that the conduct at issue in this investigation falls outside the scope of the obstruction laws lacks merit.” That is, Trump’s actions are definitely covered by existing obstruction law. Mueller isn’t saying that there’s an issue as to whether Trump obstructed justice—Trump definitely obstructed justice.
Mueller then moves into looking purely at the question of “constitutional defenses to applying obstruction-of-justice statutes to presidential conduct.” That’s the only unresolved question. Not whether Trump committed acts that constitute obstruction, but whether that charge can be applied to a sitting president.
And what the special counsel determines is simple: The only counterforce to Trump’s authority is Congress’ authority.
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