Mueller Trips Over His Own Feet

Do you remember when the great Willie Mays fell down chasing a fly ball during the 1973 World Series? Here was Mays, one of the most graceful and agile athletes ever to play the game, author of some of the most remarkable fielding plays in baseball history, and here he was, 42-years-old, playing for the Mets, and in the waning days of his remarkable career, tripping over his own feet. It was a sad end for such a legend, and people were pained to watch it.

I couldn’t help but think of the “Say Hey Kid” while watching Robert Mueller’s rambling, awkward, uncomfortable, and disjointed testimony before two congressional committees on Wednesday. It was clear the former special counsel was out of his element, and unfamiliar with much of the report that bears his name. He clearly did not write it and, arguably, did not even bother to read it.

Mueller seemed to be suffering some of the natural effects of aging—and suffering even more (as happens too often with distinguished people) from the effects of shady handlers and manipulators. Such people attach themselves to luminaries like Mueller and hide behind their reputations for probity to carry out nefarious schemes of one kind or another—in this case in service to #TheResistance.

Mueller responded, well over 200 times, with some variation of “I cannot respond,” “that is beyond the purview of the investigation,” “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” “If it’s in the report, it is accurate,” “can you repeat the question?” and the like. He fumbled for obvious words. And all the while he was surrounded by handlers who seemed to prop him up and feed him lines, not a principal in the process but a figurehead.

What Did Mueller Know, If Anything?
That makes the composition of his investigative team so much more suspicious. Did he really not know the politics of his staff attorneys and investigators? Was he unaware that all supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election and that half a dozen contributed money to her campaign? Did he even ask?

Had Clinton been a defendant in a criminal case (or Donald Trump, for that matter), and had these attorneys been questioned about their fitness to serve on a jury, all of them would have been barred for potential bias. It is an obvious conflict, and an obvious question that should have been asked of each of them: did you contribute to or actively participate in either campaign? That it was not asked is a clear indication of Mueller’s manipulation.

As was this: the unethical and nonjudicial standard of a potential defendant not being “exonerated.” Such a requirement is unknown in our—or in any—fair-minded judicial system. The presumption of innocence is sacred, for several reasons including the impossibility of ever proving one’s innocence of anything. After all, there might be no evidence of criminality now but who’s to say such evidence won’t appear in a month, a year, or even a decade from now? That is why prosecutions require the foundation of probable cause that a crime was committed (a standard that was not even met in this case) and conviction requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

That such deference was not granted to Donald Trump is outrageous.

As was this: the only evidence of collusion between a candidate and a campaign was not actually investigated by Mueller. That evidence was of the Clinton’s campaign’s solicitation of and payment for the salacious and unverified Steele dossier that was published in Russia and used to facilitate spying on American citizens. “Beyond the purview of my investigation”? Mueller should just have admitted that the purview of his investigation was to dig up any dirt it could on the president. Period.

Election Meddling Everywhere
The horrors of Russian interference that purportedly disrupted and corrupted American democracy still haven’t quite been explained. What did the Russians do? Meet with campaign officials? I assume that the campaigns on both sides met with foreigners representing several dozen countries. I myself greet several Russians every week. Is that collusion?

Apparently they purchased ads on Facebook that influenced . . . who exactly? As the joke (by now, old) goes: did the Russians convince Hillary not to campaign in Wisconsin? Even Bill thought that was a big mistake. What did the Russians do that influenced the election? And note that the conflation of “Russians” and “Russian government” is not at all warranted without further evidence.

Politicians are almost always duplicitous and labor to sound pious and sincere, but let’s be frank: do foreign governments take an interest in American elections? Of course they do. The interests of most countries are likely to be furthered by one side or another in any given contest. It is why the United States routinely interferes in Israel’s elections, with the Obama State Department being censured by Congress for spending U.S. tax dollars to campaign against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2013.

The British, French, Germans, Italians, Australians, and Israelis all have an interest in who sits in the Oval Office. As do the Russians, Iraqis, Iranians, and Pakistanis. Sometimes countries will overtly favor one person, other times they will covertly support one over the other, and some countries—usually adversaries—will try to acquire dirt on both parties to hedge their bets and use the information to their advantage in future relations.

That has been a Russian tactic for decades—and one of a nation’s most common uses of its intelligence agencies (and even diplomatic corps) is to gather information on candidates and positions, predict outcomes, and try to reach out to any and all campaigns. I doubt that the Russians are atypical, as I don’t doubt that the United States does exactly the same thing in other countries. (See the histories of Chile, the Philippines, and Iran for just a few examples.)

The whole process of this investigation has been a bizarre farce since the beginning and has corrupted the American legal establishment in ways that will reverberate for quite a while. The tendentiousness is blatant. The misstatements by so many Democratic representatives were reprehensible. It is clear that “collusion” (if it did occur) is not a crime. Period.

So, can a person obstruct justice to impede an investigation into a non-crime? That seems more like obstruction of injustice. Does one obstruct justice by asking an investigator, prosecutor, or judge to go easy on someone? If so, that type of “obstruction” occurs every day, and I have probably violated it hundreds of times. But that is not obstruction. Nor is ranting in private about the injustice of it all, nor is calling a political witch-hunt a political witch-hunt.

The Stuff of Banana Republics
There were repeated references to former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleading guilty and going to prison for “campaign violations.” Well, that is an obvious falsehood. Cohen was prosecuted for tax evasion and fraud having nothing to do with Trump—and he admitted to a host of other violations simply at the behest of prosecutors who otherwise would not have accepted a deal. The fact that Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign violation does not even mean that there was a campaign violation, as anyone who has ever pleaded guilty to a seat belt violation instead of a moving violation can attest.

How Trump won remains a mystery only to elitists who, beyond their own circles, know very little about the country in which they reside but pontificate about all the time. It seems pretty apparent that the Democrats hope to perpetuate these investigations through 2020, hoping that the country tires of Trump and the whole tumult.

But the danger to the country is enormous—not just the indifference of politicians to the real problems the country faces but also the harm to its international reputation, the invitation to even more insidious interference in the future, the corruption of the legal process, and the nightmare of an agency with limitless power focusing its enmity and unlimited resources on a political target. That is the stuff of banana republics.

When the Torah taught us “Justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), the Kotzker Rebbe explained the redundancy by averring that justice must be pursued only through means that are just. Justice is distorted when the means to attain it are perverse.

Let Mueller rest and retire. His sad decline is depressing to note. But, had I been on the committee, I would have closed with this statement:

Mr. Mueller, there is compelling evidence that your staff was biased against President Trump from the beginning and that you purposely omitted or ignored exculpatory evidence. You may not be guilty of prosecutorial misconduct, but neither have you been exonerated of it.

Unfortunately, those who think that will be the last word on this matter will be sorely disappointed.

Photo Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

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About Rabbi Steven Pruzansky

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky leads Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey and is the Eastern Regional Vice President of the Coalition for Jewish Values.