By Jonathan Turley
In that twinkling zone between man and myth, Robert Mueller transcends the mundane. Even in refusing to reach a conclusion on criminal conduct, he is excused. As Mueller himself declared, we are to ask him no questions or expect any answers beyond his report. But his motivations as special counsel can be found only within an approved range that starts at “selfless” and ends at “heroic.” Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) defended Mueller’s refusal to reach a conclusion as simply “protecting” President Trump in a moment of “extreme fairness.”
Yet as I noted previously, Mueller’s position on the investigation has become increasingly conflicted and at points unintelligible. As someone who defended Mueller’s motivations against the unrelenting attacks of Trump, I found his press conference to be baffling, and it raised serious concerns over whether some key decisions are easier to reconcile on a political rather than a legal basis. Three decisions stand out that are hard to square with Mueller’s image as an apolitical icon. If he ever deigns to answer questions, his legacy may depend on his explanations.
Refusal to identify grand jury material
One of the most surprising disclosures made by Attorney General William Barr was that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein expressly told Mueller to submit his report with grand jury material clearly marked to facilitate the release of a public version. The Justice Department cannot release grand jury material without a court order. Mueller knew that. He also knew his people had to mark the material because they were in the grand jury proceedings.
Thus, Barr and Rosenstein reportedly were dumbfounded to receive a report that did not contain these markings. It meant the public report would be delayed by weeks as the Justice Department waited for Mueller to perform this basic task. Mueller knew it would cause such a delay, as many commentators were predicting Barr would postpone the release of the report or even bury it. It left Barr and the Justice Department in the worst possible position and created the false impression of a cover-up.
Why would a special counsel directly disobey his superiors on such a demand? There is no legal or logical explanation. What is even more galling is that Mueller said in his press conference that he believed Barr acted in “good faith” in wanting to release the full report. Barr ultimately did so, releasing 98 percent of the report to select members of Congress and 92 percent to the public. However, then came the letter from Mueller.