TPM Reader GB isn’t satisfied with the Mueller explanations …
I enjoyed hearing the perspective from the TPM reader who had worked with Mueller and many members of his team, and don’t doubt that he would have much greater insight into the people involved than I do.
But looking from the outside, I wonder if it’s possible that Mueller wasn’t snookered at all (at least in the sense of being surprised) by how Barr handled things, and that maybe people who (for other, often quite valid reasons) want or hope to see evidence supporting impeachment may be projecting onto Mueller their own preferences and biases.
Mueller is widely viewed as a straight-shooter, meticulously fair, and a by-the-book institutionalist. But Barr and Mueller were, according to media reports, good friends (at least prior to him taking the special counsel job).
Maybe this friendship colors how he views Barr’s actions, and Mueller may not think Barr is acting in bad faith, or maybe simply he’s trying to avoid an overt confrontation with his long-time friend. Mueller’s statement did explicitly say he “[does] not question the attorney general’s good faith in that decision”, a phrase literally limited solely to the choice to release the full (redacted) Mueller report all at once, rather than releasing some parts first, as Mueller requested. Does that also imply Mueller thinks Barr is acting in good faith in general, or simply with respect to this one decision? Depending on your view of Barr, you may interpret that quite differently.
Many on the left have elevated Mueller to a savior like figure, as the Trump-slayer who will bring the hammer of justice down to end the madness. But it seems Mueller doesn’t want to, or simply can’t, play that role. He’ll report what he feels he must report, and then would rather get out of the way.
We live in quite a partisan time, and one in which pretty much the whole Republican party has gone Trumpian. At a personal level, it may be hard for Mueller, himself a life-long Republican, to be cast in the role of destroyer of a GOP presidency, even if the facts may point in that direction.
So he writes his report and steps back. The OLC says he can’t indict. Congress may (or may not) choose to impeach, but that’s their political call, not his decision. The report has largely been made public, and if most people can’t be bothered to read it, that’s not his problem.
Robert Mueller is a public servant with a long, distinguished career, but he’s not justice personified. He’s human, and his motivations and preferences may not be the ones we’d like to project onto him.
Maybe, for whatever reason, Mueller actually doesn’t want to see Trump impeached or indicted, in which case the long silences, lack of leaks from his office, and the reluctance to push back publicly about Barr’s characterization of his report make a lot of sense. Maybe Mueller is being snookered because he wants to be.
For my part, I assumed it was always a given that the Mueller as Trump-Slayer dialog was always tongue-in-cheek or silly on its face. I tend to think whatever the explanation is it isn’t to be found in personal friendships or partisanship but temperament.