The rocky road that follows the release of the Mueller report
Whether you like him or not so much, Sen. Richard Blumenthal brings an unusual perspective to bear on the Mueller report — which he was reading for the second time when I reached him by phone Friday.
As Connecticut’s former state attorney general and U.S. attorney, Blumenthal sees special counsel Robert Mueller’s work through prosecutorial lenses.
But as a political figure in the U.S. Senate and a thinly veiled loather of President Donald Trump (who never misses an opportunity to trash Blumenthal), he kind of wishes Mueller had pulled the pin before tossing the grenade.
The 400-plus pages of the Mueller report is a grab bag, something for everyone. Blumenthal and the rest of the Connecticut Dem delegation sees “an epic mosaic of criminality and impropriety,” Blumenthal’s words.
But Trump was doing a victory dance, tweeting about the “Crazy Mueller Report” and Mueller’s team chasing a “made-up fraud.”
Mueller ended up saying evidence was insufficient to charge Trump or his campaign team with conspiring and coordinating with Russian intelligence to chip away at his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. And he punted on obstruction, saying that although the report does not accuse him of a crime, “it also does not exonerate him.”
Did Mueller pull his punches? Did he blink in the end, unwilling to take down the President of the United States, no matter how flawed?
“The four corners of the law don’t always fit moral or ethical breaches,” Blumenthal said. “Whether it was criminal or not, the misconduct was unethical, immoral, unbefitting the presidency and a betrayal of Donald Trump’s oath of office.”
Attorney General William Barr said Thursday he has no problem permitting Mueller to testify before Congress. If he appears before the Senate Judiciary Committee, of which Blumenthal is a member, Blumenthal said he plans to ask Mueller whether he didn’t push further because of an internal Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Does Mueller agree with the policy? And why didn’t he push harder for an interview with Trump, instead of just submitting written questions? (Mueller in the report stated that haggling with Trump’s lawyers over an interview would have eaten up a lot more time.)
Mueller is a “by-the-book guy and probably he went as far as he thought he could go, adhering to the rules as he perceived him to be,” Blumenthal said.
With Mueller closing up shop, the action now likely shifts to New York.
Mueller listed 14 referrals on Trump-related matters to other law enforcement agencies, Most were blotted out in the report. But likely among them is fleshing out the case against Michael Cohen, Trump’s fixer who already has pleaded guilty to making payments to women who claimed affairs with Trump in order to buy their silence prior to the
Cohen said he was directed to do so by “Individual-1” — evidently a reference to Trump.
An then there’s a New York state investigation of Deutsche Bank — which lent Trump millions for real-estate investments when other banks were shunning him.
The door also is open for impeachment proceedings, which would start in the House.
“Nothing should be taken off table but there would have to be a lot of additional thought and fact finding and consideration of the Mueller report before any remedy is decided,” said Blumenthal.
After reading the Mueller report, I couldn’t help but feel just a bit of sympathy for Hope Hicks. Now just 30, she had a storybook upbringing in Greenwich, classic looks and brains to match, a modeling career followed by a PR career that landed her a job as publicist for Ivanka Trump’s clothing line in 2014.
From that, it was just a hop, skip, jump to the world of Donald Trump and his budding presidential campaign. She became “Hopie,” “The Hopester,” the one Trump trusted more than virtually anyone outside his own family. A high-level communications position in the White House beckoned after Trump surprised everyone — including himself — and won the 2016 presidential election.
But the storybook turned into something of a nightmare as the investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller proceeded. In copious detail, the Mueller report recounts how the publicly demure Hicks’ head began spinning as she read through emails telling Donald Trump Jr. that an emissary from Russia sought to provide “documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia” as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.’’
The email exchange eventually led to the now-famous meeting at Trump Tower with Donald Jr., Paul Manafort, son-in-law Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer thought to be the purveyor of “dirt” on Hillary. The meeting proved to be less eventful, and the lawyer segued into a discussion of U.S. legal constraints on Russia that affected the adoption of Russian children.
Hicks told the Mueller team she thought the emails were “really bad” and the media response, once they were disclosed, would be “massive.”
She went to Trump and counseled early disclosure of the emails to get ahead of the story, coupled with a friendly interview full of “softball questions.” Trump waved her off, saying it was unlikely the emails would leak - and in any case he didn’t want to know anything about it.
When Hicks subsequently told Trump the New York Times was working on a story, Trump told her not to say anything. When she mentioned the adoption discussion to Trump, the president responded: “Then just say that.”
After some back-andforth with Donald Jr., Hicks prepared a statement saying the meeting was “primarily” about the adoption of Russian children. Donald Jr. wanted “primarily” in the statement as a hedge.
Mueller cites Trump’s three directions to Hicks not to disclose anything about the June 2016 meeting as “obstructive acts.” But ultimately Mueller concluded Trump’s actions were not obstruction because Trump never tried to hide the emails from Congress or Mueller’s team.
In any case, pretty heady stuff for Hicks, then 28. Eight months later, she was out the White House door and headed to Los Angeles for a position as communications chief for Fox. Now we know what she’s recovering from.
Robert S. Mueller, III, former director of the F.B.I., testifies on Capitol Hill in 2004. Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was released Thursday.