Attorney General William Barr finally released Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, though it remains heavily redacted.
The report consists of two volumes, the first of which deals with Russian interference. The second deals with whether Donald Trump obstructed justice in relation to the Russian interference investigation.
In the course of the investigation Mueller made 14 prosecution referrals, two of which have been acted upon: one against Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and one against Gregory Craig, who was a lawyer in the Obama White House. Mueller made no recommendation for prosecution of Donald Trump himself, saying there was not clear enough evidence to do so, though there’s also not enough evidence to exonerate him.
In the second part of this two-part panel, The Real News Network’s Greg Wilpert spoke to Gerald Horne and Kamau Franklin about whether Trump engaged in obstruction of justice.
“[Mueller] left the room for Congress and Judiciary within the Justice Department to look at this potentially to bring charges. And in this case, you know, a sitting president cannot have an ongoing criminal indictment. But of course after the presidency, a criminal indictment and criminal charges could follow,” Franklin said. “But what could happen now is, obviously, the impeachment bar. So basically, Mueller threw it back into the Justice Department’s lap.”
Franklin added that Attorney General Barr was not going to conclude based on the report that Trump obstructed justice.
Horne explained that Trump’s base shows no signs of wavering, making impeachment highly unlikely even though Trump clearly obstructed justice: “It’s apparent from the Mueller report that [Trump] has committed actionable crimes even if one tips around the rather polite language or the Mueller report itself,” Horne said.
GREG WILPERT: It’s The Real News Network, and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.
This is segment two of our conversation about the special counsel’s report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, also known as the Mueller Report. I’m joined by Gerald Horne and Kamau Franklin. Gerald is Professor of History at the University of Houston, and Kamau is former cochair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. Thanks again, Gerald and Kamau, for joining us.
So in the first segment, we discussed the larger context in which this report falls, and also the first volume of the report on Russian interference and collusion with the Trump campaign. I now want to turn to the issue of volume two, which deals with obstruction of justice. Now, the 400 page Mueller Report dives into the issue of whether Trump engaged in the obstruction of justice with regard to ten separate counts, and I’m just going to mention some of them; obstructing the FBI’s Russia investigation, firing FBI Director James Comey, efforts to fire the special counsel, suppression of evidence over the Trump Tower project in Russia, and his efforts to influence Michael Cohen’s testimony, among other things.
However, Mueller says that he cannot recommend prosecution against Trump because the evidence is not clear enough. But he also says that there’s not enough evidence to say that he’s exonerated. So finally, there’s also the issue of whether a sitting president can even be prosecuted. That is, Attorney General William Barr actually has come out saying that he cannot, and therefore decided not to pursue a prosecution or indictment. Now, what do you make of this, just how guilty does Trump seem to be, and does this even matter? What do you think? Kamau, let’s start with you.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I mean, I think the Mueller Report took a political stance on this. And I think, to paraphrase, at one point it said, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.” So they left the room for Congress and the Justice Department to look at this and potentially to bring charges. And in this case, a sitting president cannot be–a felony cannot have an ongoing criminal indictment. But of course, after the presidency, a criminal indictment and criminal charges could follow. But what could happen now is, obviously, the impeachment bar. So basically, Mueller threw it back into the Justice Department’s lap, but he should have known–and obviously everyone knew–that Attorney General Barr was not going to decide to say that President Trump had obstructed justice in this way.
So I think what we’re going to have is hearings from the Democratic side in Congress, in the House, to point out the ways in which he did obstruct justice in this case. And I think there is pretty good evidence to suggest that he did a number of things to either have this case thrown out, to have some of the officials go easy on other folks who are potentially indictable in this case. So I think there’s a lot of evidence there for it to go forward. But again, this is really a political question, whether the House has the power to, let’s say, indict that turns into impeach, but it’s the Senate who is going to decide, as a jury, to decide to actually go forward with that impeachment or not. And obviously, the Republican Party controls the Senate, so that’s never going to happen.
GREG WILPERT: What do you think, Gerald? Does it make sense for the Congress to move forward with these findings?
GERALD HORNE: Well, it depends on what you mean by “move forward.” The fact of the matter is, is that the 60 million strong Trump base does not seem to be decomposing or cracking. That’s what gives Mr. Trump confidence that he can continue in office. The Office of Legal Counsel opinion of the Justice Department suggests that a sitting President cannot be indicted. Number one, one can go back and examine that opinion and still ascertain if it’s good law. And number two, that gives more impetus to our efforts to remove Mr. Trump from office in 2020 and then make sure that he’s properly indicted. Because it’s apparent from the Mueller Report that he has committed actionable crimes, even if one tips around the rather polite language or the Mueller Report itself.
The other point I would make is that Attorney General William Barr has acted like Michael Cohen. That is to say, he’s acted like the fixer of Mr. Trump, rather than the Attorney General of the United States of America. This is something that may lead to certain kinds of investigations of Mr. Barr himself, and it also casts light upon the ill-advised opinion of many Democrats to vote for his confirmation as Attorney General of the United States of America.
GREG WILPERT: Yeah, that’s a very interesting point. The other thing is, of course, that to the Mueller Report points out, I think, that Trump tried to convince various people, such as McGahn, to fire the special counsel, but it was only thanks to their disobedience to Trump that this wasn’t carried out. So in a way, it’s kind of a strange argument that maybe he was not obstructing justice because his underlings didn’t want to obstruct justice. I mean, what do you think of this argument to come out?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I think it’s a specious argument at best. I think that there’s obvious evidence that if Mueller wanted to say either an indictment should be sealed and opened after the presidency is over, or this is enough information to move forward or into an impeachment, he could have done so. But I think he wanted to stay away from the political question and throw it back into the hands of Congress. And I do think, knowing that Congress’ hands would be tied, this is going to be a political football. I agree with Gerald, this is going to be something which the Democrats use as a bludgeon against Trump, I don’t think Trump’s base really cares about it.
And so, in the end, this is going to be about scoring points, whether or not a criminal indictment is brought down or not. If this particular special prosecutor wanted, based on the evidence that seems to be presented, to bring an indictment again or to say that an impeachment should have gone forward based on obstruction, I think there was enough evidence based in this report alone for him to go forth and do that.
GREG WILPERT: So finally, let’s take a look at the last point, actually, that you made, Gerald, about the role of Mueller and Barr in all of this. I find it first of all notable that the Starr Report, the investigation into President Bill Clinton’s potential violations of the law, since then, the special counsel law was watered down, it seems. Unlike the Starr Report, the Mueller Report was being released first as a confidential report, and then now only heavily redacted. That is, I would estimate between 10 and 20 percent of the report itself has actually been blacked out. I don’t know, somebody must have come up with an exact estimate by now.
But anyway, as you mentioned, he seems to be a solid defender of Trump’s. But it raises the question of the role of the Justice Department, I think, in all of these kinds of investigations. That is, in the United States, the Justice Department is directly connected to the executive, and they’ve tried to somehow give it more independence through the special counsel’s role, but this doesn’t really seem to work. And in some countries, actually, the prosecutorial power is actually completely independent of the executive. So I just want to make that comparison. And what do you think, is there something that is inherently wrong about the U.S. justice system, Gerald?
GERALD HORNE: Well, I think what is inherently wrong is the theory of the case put forward by Attorney General William Barr in terms of his cockeyed notion of a unitary executive. That is to say that a president inherently, according to Mr. Barr, cannot obstruct justice, that firing James Comey, for example, was within his purview, and therefore it was justifiable, even if, as we suspect, he had a corrupt motive in doing so. Perhaps that suggests, as Mr. Trump himself suggested, that if you kill somebody on Fifth Avenue, that that too could not be prosecuted as a crime, since Mr. Trump has oversight over the federal prosecutorial authorities. I think that if we are not able to remove Mr. Trump from office by impeachment, certainly we need to revisit the confirmation of William Barr and perhaps contemplate impeachment proceedings against him.
GREG WILPERT: And finally, Kamau, I want to give you the last word. What do you think about the role of the Justice Department in all of this?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, I think from the beginning, I think anybody who had a clear look at the Justice Department, from Sessions now to Barr, would have known that the conclusion that the Justice Department was going to reach was that Trump was not going to be indicted, that there would be no move forward to bring criminal charges against him. I think that it was baked into the cake, even though I think it’s obvious Trump was nervous about all the evidence that was out there that he tried to obstruct this case, that potentially his son engaged in activities that, again, could have brought on criminal liability in his campaign. I think he was rest assured, had that in his back pocket. So I think the Attorney General’s Office clearly is a tool of the president.
I think, largely speaking, both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party obviously enjoy having the power over what’s supposed to be the investigation arm of the United States, and would not give that up just because they’re in power right now and someone else isn’t.
GREG WILPERT: All right. So I mean, I think this brings us back to our original point in the first segment about this being, to a large extent, a power struggle among elites. But we’re going to have to leave it there for now. I was speaking to Gerald Horne, Professor of History at the University of Houston, and Kamau Franklin, former cochair of the National Conference of Black Lawyers. Thanks again, Gerald and Kamau, for having joined us today.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you.
GERALD HORNE: Thank you.
GREG WILPERT: And thank you for joining The Real News Network.