|Racine County Logic Puzzle Museum.|
Mueller's statement is a logic puzzle; as a matter of fact, so is the whole 450-page Report, but this morning's presentation was more succinct, and it went, in proper puzzle form, pretty much like this:
Based on the following statements,
- If I thought Trump was not guilty, I would say so
- If I thought Trump was guilty, it would be improper for me to say so (since he's president), so I wouldn't
- If I had a case I couldn't prove, I might say so (as I did in the conspiracy case, but without directly naming the suspects)
- I'm not going to say what I think
It's not very difficult, but the answer isn't simple either.
There's an obvious first thing to say, which is that Mueller does not think Trump is not guilty (or as Jonathan Chait said he's not not guilty), because he didn't in fact say so. That he refuses to speak suggests he must think Trump is guilty, because that's the only case where he promised not to speak, and that's reinforced by Volume 2 of the Report, which presents us the evidence of Trump lying and fabricating evidence, intimidating investigators, asking them to stop this and that investigation, and every once in a while giving them or trying to give them the sack (his henchmen sometimes refuse to do it for him), and tampering with witnesses, which looks an awful lot like obstruction of justice, not to mention meeting secretly with Russians and looking for secret channels to meet with them more, which looks a good deal like conspiracy, but this is not exactly the puzzle.
The puzzle has two additional possibilities where he didn't promise to speak or not to speak: the case where he might, where he has a case but it's not a case he can prove, and the case he didn't mention at all, where he hasn't got a clue. And a third, from fuzzy logic, where he's thinking at some indefinite spot or range on a continuum from hasn't got a clue to totally guilty, but that's not the answer either.
The answer to the puzzle is, rather, exactly what he said, that he's not going to say, for a reason he also supplied, that it's Congress's job to decide.
That is, Congress must impeach, or at least prepare to impeach, and they must do it without any further help from him than what's supplied in the Report, because saying anything further violates the code. And good luck! They must find out how guilty he is (innocence not being an available result from his prosecutorial point of view) for themselves.
There were some other things that I thought were significant in the statement. First, that he's given up the format "did not establish" in favor of what I thought he meant in the first place;
The first volume of the report details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the Trump campaign's response to this activity as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.I.e., that he has evidence of the conspiracy (among Trump, Flynn, Junior, Kushner, Manafort, Hope Hicks, Stone, Corsi, and so on) but not enough to be sure of conviction.
An innocuous-looking bit at the end seemed significant to WNYC reporter Andrea Bernstein:
Now, before I step away, I want to thank the attorneys, the FBI agents, the analysts, the professional staff who helped us conduct this investigation in a fair and independent manner.
These individuals who spent nearly two years with the special counsel's office were of the highest integrity. And I will close by reiterating the central allegation of our indictments, that there were multiple systemic efforts to interfere in our election.Trump himself has made this simple and appropriate courtesy seem important, by his own insistence that the people in question are "Angry Democrats", spies, and traitors. Adjacent to the reminder of how serious the central crime was, which Trump and Barr don't seem to feel at all, it becomes very meaningful: There are sides in this story, and some of us are on it and others aren't.
Finally, I thought it was important that he went back to his beef with Attorney General Barr, while denying, like any good bureaucrat, that it was a beef:
We conducted an independent criminal investigation and reported the results to the attorney general, as required by department regulations. The attorney general then concluded that it was appropriate to provide our report to Congress and to the American people. At one point in time, I requested that certain portions of the report be released and the attorney general preferred to make — preferred to make the entire report public all at once and we appreciate that the attorney general made the report largely public. And I certainly do not question the attorney general's good faith in that decision.He doesn't question it, but we can if we want to. It seems to me this is the whole reason for today's statement; to do a reset, as it were and start the process of forming the public view all over again, but once again without ever saying what he actually thinks, which would violate his exquisite sense of propriety. That is what this puzzle is all about, and the reason he's putting it in puzzle form: we're supposed to get it for ourselves, and yes, if we think Trump is guilty as well, that's the thing Mueller didn't say the loudest. He didn't say it so loudly that I can't believe anybody missed it, but there we are.