Not a day passes without speculation somewhere in the media about when Special Counsel Robert Mueller will release his report and just what exactly will it say about President Donald Trump.
The first problem is getting a public look at the report. Trump’s former acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker and his permanent Attorney General William Barr have made it almost clear that if it’s up to them, the public will never see a full, unredacted report from Mueller. Trump’s former attorney John Dowd went further and flatly said the report will never see the light of day.
Congressional Democrats will try to have something to say about that. They chair key intelligence and oversight committees with subpoena power.
Presumably, they will use that to get some, or all, of the report in their hands for a look and, of course, public release. The attorney general will counter with the claim that there are national security issues at stake that any public release could jeopardize. This in turn will ignite yet another war between Democrats and the Trump team over the report.
But the question that anyone has ever really been concerned about from day one in the Mueller probe is whether he has found anything to nail Trump on, whether that be obstruction of justice and/or collusion with Russian operatives in hijacking the 2016 presidential election. In the months that Mueller has dragged out the investigation, the answer to this question depends on who is being asked.
Polls show the deep partisan political divide on this. Few Republicans think there is anything there that directly accuses Trump of any criminal action. The overwhelming majority of Democrats say there is much that implicates Trump.
So far, the only thing that is certain is that Mueller has brought a slew of charges against several former key Trump presidential campaign players and his attorney and has looked hard at Trump’s financial dealings. The only thing that has connected Trump to Russian sabotage of the election is the oft-cited meeting between Donald Trump Jr. at Trump Tower with Russian operatives in the run-up to the 2016 election.
The operative word here is “indirect” since Trump wasn’t at the meeting, denies any knowledge of any talk about smear tactics to be used against Hillary Clinton and Trump Jr. has blown it off as simply a routine business meeting.
The only other possible incriminating tidbit is Trump’s firing of former FBI Director James Comey when, presumably, he refused to shut down the Russia probe. That is basically Comey’s word that this happened the way he says it did.
If it did, then Muller could make a plausible case against Trump for obstruction of justice. That’s a potentially impeachable offense. But it’s a tough sell.
He would have to show that Trump made a false statement, withheld, concealed, altered or destroyed a document that obstructed the investigation.
There is no evidence of any existence, let alone concealment, destruction or tampering of a document that would show that Trump ordered or demanded that Comey stand down from investigating him.
The bigger problem with trying to make an obstruction of justice charge stick is the always thorny matter of trying to prove intent. So even if Trump desperately wanted Comey to back off from any potential investigation of his Russia ties and did try to undermine such an investigation, a prosecutor would still have to prove that he deliberately and willfully used illegal means to stop Comey from an investigation.
If this sounds like going around and around the legal mulberry bush, with where it stops no one knows, that’s exactly what it is. It is so muddled, confused and bogged down in a never-ending circle of legal he said-she said assertions to almost hopelessly throttle a prosecutor and a federal grand jury.
There’s always the matter though of alleged payoffs that Trump ordered made to prevent potentially embarrassing sexual hijinks revelations from being made public before the 2016 presidential election. His one-time fixer attorney and accountant have pointed the finger at Trump on this.
However, this charge strays far afield from the whole intent of the Mueller investigation, which was to try and sort out what Trump knew and when did he know it about Russian tampering with the 2016 presidential election to put him in the White House. The collusion and obstruction of justice charges that could bring down Trump hinge on the answer to that question.
Unfortunately, despite the never-ending chatter about what Mueller found and whether the public will get to see those findings, it means little if there’s nothing that directly implicates Trump in criminal wrongdoing.
Trump never misses a chance to make that point about Mueller’s investigation and in the process of absolving himself of anything amiss. So far, he’s proven to be right. And there’s little reason to expect much from Mueller to prove him wrong.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of “The Russia Probe: What Did Trump Know, And When Did He Know It?” (Middle Passage Press). He also is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.