|Image via NBC.|
Rep. Ted Lieu during the first Judiciary session with Mueller this morning:
“I’d like to ask you the reason, again, that you did not indict Donald Trump is because of OLC [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president, correct?” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) asked Mueller.
Mueller’s response was straightforward: “That is correct.”And Mueller walking it back after the break:
“I want to go back to one thing that was said this morning by Mr. Lieu who said, and I quote, ‘you didn’t charge the president because of the OLC opinion.’ That is not the correct way to say it,” Mueller said in his statement. “As we say in the report and as I said at the opening, we did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime.”Via Vox, which argues that it isn't a big deal:
It’s understandable why many have latched onto the Lieu moment. After all, it would be a massive admission by Mueller under oath. But it seems he was a bit imprecise in answering the lawmaker, or at least didn’t make his true feelings clear.I totally disagree with that assessment; I think Lieu absolutely won a vital point here, and Mueller said as much. Not "what I said is not true" but "that is not the correct way to say it". And not the correct way to say it not because he doesn't believe that, but because it was not "as we say in the report".
What Lieu succeeded in doing is getting Mueller to say something that isn't in the report, to express his "true feelings" in violation of the constraints he's been imposing on himself since his formal statement of 29 May,
So beyond what I’ve said here today and what is contained in our written work, I do not believe it is appropriate for me to speak further about the investigation or to comment on the actions of the Justice Department or Congress. And it’s for that reason I will not be taking questions today, as well.And saying something he very specifically didn't want to say, as prefigured in the statement he co-signed with Barr, released 30 May:
The Attorney General has previously stated that the Special Counsel repeatedly affirmed that he was not saying that, but for the OLC opinion, he would have found the President obstructed justice.Not that it isn't true, but that he's "not saying it". In contrast to Barr's categorical statement in his deceptive letter of 24 March, that
Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.So under questioning from Ted Lieu, he said it. And then turned around with the explanation that he had said it in an "incorrect" way and "corrected" it to make it agree with the official stance.
It's not so earthshakingly important in itself, but it's a kind of skeleton key to all the other things he's been carefully not saying that we've been reading between the lines, that he did have cases for coordination and conspiracy against people in the Trump campaign who were never charged, including Trump himself (just not quite strong enough to send to court), that he could have written an indictment against Trump for obstruction of justice, and that he does intend that Congress should take over the case of Trump himself with the tool it has, of impeachment. All these things he successfully didn't say today are the rest of the iceberg we glimpsed when he was responding to Lieu. The way we've been reading the report, as the basis of articles of impeachment, is the right way.
Cross-posted at No More Mister Nice Blog.