Sunday, May 26, 2019

Dramatic Readings: Mueller

Jerome Powell confirmation hearing, November 2017; Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images via Marketplace

It struck me, as we learned last week that Mueller wasn't going to be testifying publicly before the Judiciary committee, or at any rate wouldn't be taking questions on camera, that this was going to be a narratological loss, a loss to our sense of the story as story. It's the secret of the courtroom drama that the rhythm of question and response structures our experience of what might otherwise seem like a disjointed congeries of sentences, and I don't mean in a deceptive way: even a tendentious and irresponsible line of questioning by a hack like Trey Gowdy or Gym Jordan gives a story shape in which the truth of a given witness, like Glenn Simpson or Peter Strzok, can really shine forth in spite of the dishonesty of the interrogation (Pilate's interrogation of Jesus in John 18 is maybe the first truly great courtroom drama, with its ironic "What is truth?" climax, before Pilate goes out to the crowd like Jim Comey to announce that Jesus hasn't committed any crime but can be executed anyway if that's what folks want).

What I really wanted, for masses who aren't going to read the Mueller Report or even look at it, was a TV drama version, heightening the material like diamonds in a necklace and pointing it so you see where it's going. The questioning committee members could be represented by an Interviewer-General (IG),  and the atmospherics by a Color Commentator (CC), but the rest of the material would be taken directly from the Report, verbatim in the case of Mueller, understood to have more or less written the thing, but rearranged by the fictional questioner trying to pull the story out (the sequencing in the Report, following bureaucratic imperatives and struggling to avoid conclusions, is pretty rickety from a dramaturgical standpoint), because I'd want an audience to understand that this is really what the Report says, but less strict for the other characters (the ones the FBI interviewed or who testified in some other venue), who need to display their characters a bit more vividly than Mueller shows them.

Below the fold is a fragment of draft of a first appearance for Mueller, taken from Vol 1, pp. 1-2 and 9-10, and I'm not sure how well it works; Mueller's own style is pretty clunky, and the resequencing I've found myself impelled to do may seem pretty radical. I'd be glad to get comments on whether it does the job at all.

CC [golf announcer sotto voce, as the Special Counsel takes his seat]: Robert Mueller, ex-FBI chief and said to have been the best to hold the post, perhaps the only good one; a Republican and a by-the-book institutionalist with a horror of publicity... 
MUELLER: The Special Counsel’s investigation established that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election principally through two operations.
IG: Which were?
MUELLER: First, carried out a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Second, conducted computer-intrusion operations against entities, employees, and volunteers working on the Clinton Campaign, and then released stolen documents. The investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign.
Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.... [pause]
IG: Yes? The Russian government worked to elect Trump, they thought it would do them some good, and the campaign was glad the Russians were doing it, especially the publication of the documents they stole from the Democrats in the computer intrusions, but?
MUELLER: The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.
IG: That is, you can't prove the links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign had anything to do with making that happen. Can you be a little more explicit?
MUELLER: The evidence was not sufficient to charge that any member of the Trump Campaign conspired with representatives of the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election. The evidence was not sufficient to charge any Campaign official as an unregistered agent of the Russian government or other Russian principal. And our evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting and WikiLeaks’s releases of hacked materials was not sufficient to charge a criminal campaign-finance violation.
The investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference. The Office charged some of those lies as violations of the federal false-statements statute.
IG: You charged some of those lies? Which ones did you not charge?
MUELLER: That may be the subject of an ongoing matter.
IG: But the lies materially impaired the investigation?
MUELLER [nods]: Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated — including some associated with the Trump Campaign — deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.
The investigation did not always yield admissible information or testimony, or a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and were not, in the Office’s judgment, appropriate candidates for grants of immunity. The Office limited its pursuit of other witnesses and information — such as information known to attorneys or individuals claiming to be members of the media — in light of internal Department of Justice policies.
Some of the information obtained via court process, moreover, was presumptively covered by legal privilege and was screened from investigators by a filter (or “taint”) team. Even when individuals testified or agreed to be interviewed, they sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete, leading to some of the false-statements charges described above. And the Office faced practical limits on its ability to access relevant evidence as well — numerous witnesses and subjects lived abroad, and documents were held outside the United States.
IG: So if you hadn't had to face these obstacles, and the witnesses had been more forthcoming and told the truth?
MUELLER: The Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.

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