Jennifer Rubin: If Mueller surprised you, you haven’t read his report

Special counsel Robert Mueller speaks at the Department of Justice Wednesday, May 29, 2019, in Washington, about the Russia investigation. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

From The Washington Post:

"Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III announced Wednesday he was closing his office and offered his first public comments on the results of his work, asserting that Justice Department legal guidance prevented him from accusing President Trump of a crime and noting cryptically that the Constitution 'requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse the president of wrongdoing.' ...

"He noted that his team found 'insufficient evidence' to accuse Trump's campaign of conspiring with Russia to tilt the 2016 election, but emphasized they did not make a similar determination on whether the president obstructed justice.

" 'If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime,' Mueller said, 'we would have said so.' "

There was not a syllable about the report that was not in the redacted report. For reasons not entirely clear, Mueller refuses to explain or embellish on what he wrote. It is a sad testament to the laziness of too many voters, some in media and most in Congress that this should seem like "news" at all. It appears that Mueller must speak to be heeded. (Perhaps he should do an audio book of his report.)

Nevertheless, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., used the opportunity to educate the country, stating that Mueller had "confirmed three central points: he did not exonerate the President of the United States of obstruction of justice, obstruction of justice is a serious crime that strikes at the core of our justice system, and the Constitution points to Congress to take action to hold the President accountable." Nadler continued:

"Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that President Trump is lying about the Special Counsel's findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel's report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion. Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the President, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump - and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law."

The House Judiciary Committee still intends to call Mueller as a witness, and as a private citizen he will be compelled to appear. What would be the point? Citing a House Democratic leadership aide, The Post reports that the committee thinks "there's value in having Mueller appear in public, even if he refuses to answer questions beyond what's in the report. Most Americans, Democrats note, haven't read Mueller's findings - but potentially millions would tune in to a highly anticipated hearing broadcast on national television to hear him re-litigate some of what he found." To put it bluntly, the committee needs Mueller to read the story to voters and to members of Congress who cannot muster the energy to read it themselves.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., decided that honey works better than vinegar, going out of her way to praise Mueller in a written statement. ("It is with the greatest respect for Special Counsel Robert Mueller and the deepest disappointment in the Department of Justice holding the President above the law, that I thank Special Counsel Mueller for the work he and his team did to provide a record for future action both in the Congress and in the courts regarding the Trump Administration involvement in Russian interference and obstruction of the investigation. . . . We salute Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his team for his patriotic duty to seek the truth.")

She used the occasion not to push for impeachment but to justify the course Democrats are on. "Mueller made clear that he did not exonerate the President when he stated, 'If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.' He stated that the decision not to indict stemmed directly from the Department of Justice's policy that a sitting President cannot be indicted," she said. "The Special Counsel's report revealed that the President's campaign welcomed Russian interference in the election, and laid out eleven instances of the President's obstruction of the investigation. The Congress holds sacred its constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power." She then deftly moved on to voice support for the House's election reform bill, urging the do-nothing Senate to take it up.

In one key sense, nothing has changed - Mueller's report remains a devastating account of Trump's willingness to accept foreign interference in our election and of a slew of actions that amount to obstruction. If anything, Mueller merely qualified that he couldn't indict if he wanted to.

Now Congress must step up. Perhaps Nadler will stage a show-and-tell series of hearings in which he can feed the public the full story in manageable bites. One is struck that we get the government we deserve. Citizenship requires effort. Without it, the bullies and power-hungry autocrats run wild.

Jennifer Rubin | The Washington Post

Jennifer Rubin writes reported opinion for The Washington Post.