Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller never intended for Attorney General William Barr to make the decision on whether to prosecute Donald Trump on obstruction of justice charges. Instead, Mueller believed Congress should make that call, according to a new report by the online news magazine The Daily Beast. In fact, in Mueller’s opinion, Barr does not even have the power to make the call on Trump’s criminality, a source told the online magazine.
In his report, summing up his 22-month investigation into the Trump campaign’s connections to Russia during the 2016 presidential election, Mueller failed to reach a conclusion about whether or not Trump should be charged with obstruction, at least according to Barr’s public summary of Mueller’s findings posted online by The House Judiciary Committee.
The full text of the Mueller report remains hidden from Congress and the public. In fact, as former United States Attorney Preet Bharara noted on Twitter, even the number of pages in the report remains a closely-held secret as of Monday morning.
In his summary, Barr wrote that “applying the principles of federal prosecution,” he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
But according to the source who spoke to The Daily Beast, that decision on Barr’s part would have sandbagged Mueller.
“Mueller was making a case to Congress, who (unlike DOJ, in Mueller’s view) is empowered to weigh the lawfulness of a president’s conduct,” the source “with direct knowledge of the investigation” told The Beast.
Congressional leaders still hope to have the opportunity to review Mueller’s report in full, however, and make their own decision on Trump’s “lawfulness.” Another former U.S. attorney, Joyce Vance, said on her Twitter feed that obstruction of justice laws were not written in anticipation of a president actually using his official powers to halt an investigation — such as the firing of a top official leading the investigation, as Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017.
“Lawmakers didn’t anticipate that,” Vance wrote, adding that Congress will need to review Mueller’s report for themselves to decide whether Trump violated obstruction of justice laws — violations that could lead to Trump’s impeachment.
When President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1999, “obstruction of justice” was one of the two charges brought against him, as History.com recounts.
And in 1974, when the House drew up articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon, as recorded by Watergate.info, obstruction of justice was one of those charges as well. But Nixon resigned the office before impeachment proceedings could begin.