Lawyers, witches, broom­sticks, and the swamp

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - BY WES­LEY PRUDEN Wes­ley Pruden is edi­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

There’s new news that Robert Mueller has ex­panded his in­ves­ti­ga­tion again into What­ever, and has em­pan­eled a grand jury to in­dict some­one once he and his team of ex­pen­sive lawyers can find some­one to in­dict.

He al­ready has one grand jury at the ready in Alexan­dria, em­pan­eled months ago to pur­sue Michael Flynn, the first na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser to the pres­i­dent, but that’s across the Po­tomac 10 miles away and the traf­fic in Wash­ing­ton is so fa­tigu­ing. Be­sides, the good restau­rants are north of the river, and you can’t ex­pect a $500-an-hour lawyer take lunch in a down-mar­ket restau­rant with­out a white cloth on the ta­ble.

The new grand jury, which has been at work for weeks, is ev­i­dence that Mr. Mueller means busi­ness, or at least the busi­ness of hand­ing out rich clients to lawyers who need one that can keep on giv­ing for a long time. Mr. Mueller was orig­i­nally charged with in­ves­ti­gat­ing whether the Rus­sians tried to cook the 2016 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion with the col­lu­sion of Don­ald Trump or his cam­paign. Others have tried to find ev­i­dence of such wrong­do­ing, and so far as any­one knows they all failed. But hope springs eter­nal in the breasts of the good, the per­sis­tent and the pi­ously par­ti­san.

Em­pan­el­ing a grand jury does not al­ways mean very much, and some­times it’s even a cover for a prose­cu­tor, spe­cial or oth­er­wise, who feels a need to demon­strate that he’s do­ing some­thing, even when he’s not. Pres­i­dent Trump says Mr. Mueller is on “a witch hunt,” and every­one agrees there’s no scarcity of witches haunt­ing the swamp, but oc­ca­sion­ally a spe­cial prose­cu­tor — or “spe­cial coun­sel,” as we’re sup­posed to call him in our kin­der, gen­tler day — ac­tu­ally finds an au­then­tic witch rid­ing a broom. For the record, the Rus­sians say they aren’t among the witches.

Mr. Mueller sent off to Cheyenne for hired guns, and they’re trick­ling

into town ea­ger for a show­down. He has brought in 16 so far, dis­guised as lawyers, which ought to be more than a match for any gun­fighter this side of Shane.

The pres­i­dent’s own spe­cial coun­sel, the im­pres­sively named Ty Cobb, says what he, too, is ex­pected to say: “The White House fa­vors any­thing that ac­cel­er­ates the con­clu­sion of his work fairly. The White House is com­mit­ted to fully co-op­er­at­ing with Mr. Mueller.”

Grand ju­ries have the fear­some rep­u­ta­tion of hav­ing the power to in­dict any­one, even the cel­e­brated ham sand­wich, but in­dict­ment and con­vic­tion are not one and the same. Trial and con­vic­tion are the work of pe­tit ju­ries, the kind that Perry Ma­son tied into knots. But grand ju­ries have the fur­ther power of making tar­gets, even pres­i­dents, mis­er­able and dis­tracted even if they are never asked to re­turn an in­dict­ment.

But Mr. Mueller is ex­pected to do more than dis­tract Mr. Trump and make his life mis­er­able. He’s ex­pected, as Lyn­don B. John­son fa­mously said, “to nail that coon­skin to the wall.” The pres­i­dent’s crit­ics, set to sali­vat­ing with each noth­ing­burger, keep imag­in­ing the taste of sir­loin.

Maybe the new grand jury will de­liver. “This is yet a fur­ther sign that there is a long term, large-scale se­ries of pros­e­cu­tions be­ing con­tem­plated and be­ing pur­sued by the spe­cial coun­sel,” Stephen Vladeck, a law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Texas, tells The Wall Street Jour­nal. “If there was al­ready a grand jury in Alexan­dria look­ing at [Mr.] Flynn, there would be no need to rein­vent the wheel for the same guy. This sug­gests that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion is big­ger and wider than [Mr.] Flynn, per­haps sub­stan­tially so.”

Or maybe not. Thomas Zeno, a fed­eral prose­cu­tor for three decades be­fore ac­quir­ing a po­si­tion at the well­con­nected Wash­ing­ton law firm Squire Pat­ton Boggs, tells the Jour­nal that the new grand jury is ob­vi­ously con­duct­ing a “very vig­or­ous” in­ves­ti­ga­tion, but “this doesn’t mean [Mr. Mueller] is go­ing to bring charges. But it shows that he is very se­ri­ous. He wouldn’t do this if it were wind­ing down.”

There’s lit­tle wind­ing-down risk. An am­bi­tious spe­cial coun­sel can keep a client pay­ing out for years, and the U.S. gov­ern­ment is the best client of all be­cause it’s a bot­tom­less pit of cash, easy for the pluck­ing. He has only to worry that the pres­i­dent could do a Comey on him. Sack­ing a spe­cial prose­cu­tor, or coun­sel, might be sui­cide for a pres­i­dent, but Don­ald Trump is un­pre­dictable. His base of true be­liev­ers, shrink­ing or not, is still con­sid­er­ably larger than the base of any other politi­cian now in sight.

Mr. Mueller is tak­ing no chances. He has re­paired to an undis­closed lo­ca­tion, per­haps the one used by Dick Cheney when he was the vice pres­i­dent. He’s girded for the long march.

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