Wednesday, December 11, 2019
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Mueller Didn’t Exonerate Trump. The Report Must be Released; Congressional Investigations Critical

Interview with Caroline Fredrickson, president of the American Constitution Society, conducted by Scott Harris

After it was announced that Special Counsel Robert Mueller had finished his investigation into Trump campaign collusion with Russia and interference in the 2016 presidential election, Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller’s final report on March 24.  Barr’s summary of the report says the special counsel found no evidence that the president or his campaign colluded with Russia, but left open the question of President Trump’s culpability for obstruction of justice.  While the White House and Republicans are claiming victory, Democrats are demanding that the full report be made public along, with documents upon which the investigation is based.
Glaring questions remain about the relationship between Trump campaign officials and Russians linked to the Kremlin, and why they routinely lied about their contacts. And despite the headlines about the Mueller report’s findings, investigations continue into the Trump Organization’s role in hush money payments, the Trump inaugural committee’s finances, questions on how Trump’s son-in-law and daughter got security clearances and evidence of ethical violations in Trump’s foundation and business.
Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Caroline Fredrickson, pesident of the American Constitution Society, who takes a critical look at how Barr summarized the Mueller report and the importance of ensuring the Mueller report is released to the public, and Congress begins to investigate the many unanswered questions about the president’s conduct.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: First we have to make sure everybody understands. We have not seen the Mueller report. And what Bill Barr seems to have done is, he decided to substitute his own judgment for Robert Mueller. We have a situation where Robert Mueller apparently decided there was a lot of evidence of obstruction, but he decided not to make an ultimate determination of guilt. But clearly there was a lot of evidence in favor. So he left that particular piece undecided, although he said there were serious issues of law and fact and the president was not exonerated.

Then Bill Barr takes Mueller’s report, writes a short letter to send to Congress and says, “I’ve decided that there’s not going to be any kind of prosecution here.” And so basically puts himself in the shoes of Bob Mueller even though this is a man who auditioned for the job as attorney general by writing the president a letter saying, “I don’t think the president could ever be subject to prosecution for obstruction of justice.” So you know, there raises all sorts of issues about whether this was a white-washing – what did Bob Mueller really find? And it really makes it clear that Congress absolutely has to get a hold of the Mueller report, look at the evidence and really understand why it was that Bob Mueller found so much evidence in favor of obstruction.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Carolyn, what do you make of the media coverage of this letter written by Attorney General Barr and its conclusions there? Have they simplified it to the point where many people around the country will have misinformation about what the Mueller report actually said? Much of it we still don’t know.

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: Oh, no question about it. Many of the reports say, “no finding of wrongdoing” and things like that, which is clearly not even what Barr’s letter says. Barr’s letter says, if you read between the lines, that Mueller found some really troubling evidence and ultimately did not come to a conclusion. When it comes to the conspiracy, (it) does not say there was “no evidence,” but says that they did not establish a basis for prosecution. First of all, we don’t know what standard of proof they were applying in this case. Is it to the highest level, which is beyond a reasonable doubt – which is when you go to a jury and you want to get a conviction.

Or was it what is more appropriate when you’re trying to get an indictment – which is the stage at the beginning of a prosecution knowing that you’re going to be going back, getting more witnesses and getting more evidence. So was it at that stage? And that standard of proof is much lower and would have been the appropriate one.

So, you know, we don’t know. Did Barr apply too high standard of proof to move forward? You know, what were Mueller’s findings? Did they look at all of the different aspects of the relationships between the Russians and the Trump family, the Trump campaign, the Trump companies and so forth? Or was it only a subset? The way that the letter makes it sound like it’s only a subset of the interactions.

It makes it plain why it’s so important for Congress to play its role, its appropriate role under Article One of the Constitution, which is to serve as a check on the other branches, to do oversight, you know, so they really need to take a look. We all, as Americans, we have the right to know what happened.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Caroline, explain to our audience a bit about the narrow mission that Bob Mueller came into this assignment with. And more importantly, what issues were out of his purview that are still squarely on the table and should be investigated by Congress?

CAROLINE FREDRICKSON: That’s a great question. So, you know, it was really the Russian interference in our election and the possible conspiracy with the Trump campaign very narrowly construed as well. At least in Barr’s letter, they don’t mention it all. He doesn’t mention the quid pro quo aspects of the relationship with Russia, which is, you know, for example, getting information on Hillary Clinton that could have been damaging. It was damaging to her campaign. The giving up of polling information to the Russians. All of that seems to have been excluded or certainly wasn’t mentioned in Barr’s letter. All they looked at were the two incidents where you had the Russians hacking and leaking the DNC emails. And then the other aspect was the use of Russian trolls and bots to distribute fake news to influence the elections. Very, very, very narrow. And so that leaves a lot of questions – what about the giving up of polling in information and so forth.

But then there’s that whole other set of issues around the Trump family and Donald Trump himself exploiting the presidency for personal gain. Something that is not only unusual, but certainly raises a lot of questions legally. And you have maybe a dozen other, you know, investigations that are ongoing involving The Trump Foundation, Trump campaign finance violations. He is individual “Number One” named in that Michael Cohen prosecution in the Southern District of New York. You’ve got issues of tax fraud being investigated by the attorney general of New York, insurance fraud and so forth.

So the whole set of other investigations that are ongoing – not to mention the ongoing U.S. attorney processes in the Eastern District of Virginia and in Washington, D.C. involving Roger Stone, Paul Manafort and so forth. So there’s a lot still out there and this is only a phase of the overall investigation into Donald Trump and his family and his inappropriate dealings with respect to the American FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court). The emoluments clause lawsuits are still pending. So lots still to go.

For more information about the American Constitution Society, visit acslaw.org.

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