Mueller’s Message: The Obstruction That Nearly Halted Criminal Case Against Russians

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s statement on Wednesday may reset the conversation about his investigation’s findings, and how Congress and the American public move forward from here. In deciding what points in the over 400-page document to highlight in under 10 minutes, Mueller gave Congress and the American public advice: Focus on two interlocking pieces.

1. The gravity of Russia’s actions

The Russian government, including through its military, engaged in a “concerted” and “systematic” attack on our political system.

2. The gravity of the obstruction

The President of the United States engaged in obstruction that “strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.”

Those two propositions do not have to do with evidence of collusion or conspiracy in the 2016 election, which is a separate matter and damning in its own right. The two propositions involve a fundamental national security concern for all Americans.

In that respect, it is helpful to reflect back on significant data points in the timeline. According to the Mueller Report, two of the clearest and most egregious acts of obstruction occurred in mid-2017:

● June 2017: President Trump’s efforts to fire Mueller

● June 2017: President Trump’s efforts to curtail the investigation so that it would focus only on future election interference

The president’s efforts to impede the investigation struck at the core of the government’s efforts. Consider the dates of two of the most important products of the investigation:

February 2018: The Special Counsel’s Office secured an indictment of Russian individuals and organizations involved in the Kremlin’s social media influence operation.

July 2018: The Special Counsel’s Office secured an indictment of Russia intelligence officers for the Kremlin’s hacking operation.

Mueller ended his brief statement on Wednesday by saying, “I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments—that there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election. That allegation deserves the attention of every American.”

Exactly. And had the president’s acts of criminal obstruction succeeded, the Special Counsel would not have been able to achieve the monumental success in understanding and charging the Russians for their wrongdoing. President Trump’s continued use of his office to mislead the American public about the Russian efforts is an ongoing abuse of power and violation of his solemn duties to the American people.

Mueller has done his job. The rest is up to the American people and their political representatives.

  

About the Author(s)

Ryan Goodman

Co-Editor-in-Chief of Just Security, Anne and Joel Ehrenkranz Professor of Law at New York University School of Law, former Special Counsel to the General Counsel of the Department of Defense (2015-2016). You can follow him on Twitter @rgoodlaw.