Maybe the finale of “Game of Thrones” wasn’t the year’s least satisfying ending after all.
Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III delivered his first public comments Wednesday morning on his report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election. If Mueller has his way, they will also be his only public comments — he all but told Congress not to bother bringing him in to testify, because he pledged not to say anything that isn’t already in the report.
Even his remarks Wednesday revealed little to nothing. Democrats hoping for some signal that Mueller believes President Trump obstructed justice got only the faintest whiff thereof, in Mueller’s lengthy explanation for why the report reached no conclusion on the issue. For constitutional reasons, Mueller explained, long-standing Justice Department regulations forbid its prosecutors (and special counsels) from obtaining indictments against sitting presidents. Given that restriction, he said, it would be unfair to level accusations of criminal conduct that a president couldn’t rebut in court. But he also repeated a point made in his report, which is that if the evidence showed Trump had not obstructed justice, the report would say so. And it did not.
If you’re looking for bread crumbs, you might — might — find them in those remarks. And they point in only one direction.
Nevertheless, that’s just speculation. And Mueller struck such a scrupulous, playing-by-the-book tone — in contrast to Atty. Gen. William Barr’s public statements — that it’s risky to read any message in his remarks that wasn’t already in his report.
There was one clear takeaway that Mueller wanted to leave viewers with, and that was how much a hostile foreign power — Russia — had done to try to swing the 2016 election in Trump’s favor. To Mueller, that’s something Washington really should be focusing on.
He’s right about that, but being concerned about Russian interference in U.S. elections doesn’t preclude being worried about presidential obstruction of justice as well. The two volumes of Mueller’s report — one on Russia’s attempts to alter the outcome of the election and to curry favor with individuals in the Trump campaign (the evidence of which Mueller concluded did not support a finding that the campaign coordinated with Russian interests), the other on whether anyone sought to obstruct the investigation — are two independent story lines that have been percolating for two years. Both deserve more attention from Congress.
Mueller tied a bow around one of those story lines Wednesday. But by declaring that he wouldn’t reveal any more — to Congress or anyone else — about the evidence gathered and the analysis done on alleged obstruction of justice, he left the other story line maddeningly inconclusive.