Benjamin Wittes’s recent interview with Sam Harris on Making Sense gave some much-needed perspective and insight into the Mueller Report that, bluntly, I hadn’t given much thought to until now. I’ve quoted a few sections, but you should hear the whole episode if you want the full picture.
Benjamin on the first volume of the report:
One can say “therefore he’s been cleared of collusion” or “the pattern of behaviour that Muller documents is bizarre, concerning from a counter-intelligence and what leverage the Russians might have on him, etc, but does not obviously violate criminal law”.
On the second volume:
The gravamen is the President acted in a way that Muller did not say was obstruction of justice, but conspicuously didn’t say was not obstruction of justice. I personally find it extremely hard to read that evidence as anything other than a long-term pattern of attempts to obstruct an investigation by the President. Whether that’s a concern primarily for criminal purposes or impeachment is a complicated question, or maybe it’s both.
On whether Mr Orange was exonerated:
The office of special counsel says the President cannot be indited for obstruction of justice while he’s in office. Muller interprets this, correctly, as binding him. […] Did anyone else commit obstruction? His answer is no. Can the President be indited once he leaves office? His answer is yes. So if the President is guilty of a crime, it’s important to have the record clear, so a future prosecutor can make an appropriate judgement. This is the legal justification for the investigation. […] He does explicitly say the one exception here is if I could clearly exonerate the President, I would. I can’t, so I’m not going to.
Does the evidence describe impeachable offences? Unambiguously, it does. […] High crimes and misdemeanours is a term of art in the constitution, not a reference to the US criminal code. […] refers to a body of unacceptable Presidential behaviour that you can remove somebody from office for.
I didn’t know the difference, but he provided a useful example:
If the President, one day, took a lawn chair onto the front law of the White House and said “I’m just not gonna do the job any more, I’m just going to play chess with people”, nobody would suggest he committed a crime. And yet he would be impeached and removed from office for it. The set of things that are impeachable offences include a lot of crimes, but it is not co-extensive with the criminal code.
I believe Donald Trump committed criminal acts documented in volume two of this report. He also committed impeachable offences.
It’s a fascinating reversal of the impression I got as a layperson reading about the report. The spin doctors and liars are in full force.