While Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 elections did not find definitively that President Donald Trump committed obstruction of justice, it wasn’t for Trump’s lack of trying, The Guardian reports.
“The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” Mueller writes in the report with respect to potential criminal obstruction of justice, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
Now legal scholars and others, as they page through Mueller’s 448-page redacted report, are considering whether the unwillingness of Trump’s staff to comply with certain requests related to the investigation might in fact have been the president’s saving grace in the end.
“It’s more than a little ironic, for all the talk of the ‘unitary executive’ and the ‘deep state conspiracy’, that the refusal by Trump’s own staffers and subordinates to do much of his bidding may have helped to insulate the president from a firmer conclusion about obstruction,” tweeted Steve Vladeck, who is a professor at the University of Texas School of Law.
In fact, Mueller’s report identifies a number of such instances where members of the Trump Administration refused to carry out orders that may have ultimately implicated the president in obstruction of justice later on.
- James Comey, as FBI director, did not comply with a request to put a stop to an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
- Don McGahn, as White House counsel, did not comply with a request to tell the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, that Mueller should be removed as special counsel.
- Corey Lewandowski and Rick Dearborn, two aides to the president, did not comply with a request to deliver a message to Attorney General Jeff Sessions saying that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only.
- McGahn also did not comply with what the report describes as multiple requests to change his version of events around Trump’s direction to have Mueller removed as special counsel.
Long before Mueller’s report was complete, an anonymous member of the Trump Administration published a New York Times op-ed that reinforced the idea that there were multiple senior officials in the administration working from within to frustrate parts of Trump’s agenda and to curtail some of the president’s most destructive instincts.
In any case, it may prove that the unwillingness of a few within Trump’s orbit to blindly follow orders from their notoriously impetuous president may be the very thing that prevents Trump from facing criminal charges related to the Russia investigation.