A good rule in journalism is, or ought to be: Never predict. (Just report.) So Cockburn has some explaining to do, having quoted one source saying that Robert Mueller would hand in his report yesterday. The story said members of President Trump’s family would be charged but also noted that it is Department of Justice policy not to indict a sitting President. However, there was no frenzy at the DoJ on Friday, no throng of reporters to make the tourists heading up Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House stop and look. So what happened?
Several sources tell Cockburn that the Special Counsel has indeed completed his report. It is said to recommend indicting three of President Trump’s children – Don junior, Ivanka and Eric – as well as his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. The Attorney General, William Barr, is said to have ‘silently assented’ to this. It’s also claimed that Mueller wants President Trump himself to be indicted. Barr is said to oppose this. The two men met on Friday but apparently could not agree and this was the reason for the delay in any announcement from the DoJ. At least this is what the sources say.
So who are these sources? Joseph Heller mocked Washington’s – and journalism’s — culture of ‘sources’ in his novel Good as Gold.
‘I believe I got that information about you from a reliable unnamed source.’
‘I’ve been doing a lot of work here as an unnamed source,’ Gold answered with nervousness and haste, ‘so it may have come from me. No truth to it at all.’
None of Cockburn’s sources was ‘in the room’ – as they say in Washington – for the (alleged) discussions between Mueller and Barr and their two staffs. And none of the sources was briefed by the people ‘in the room’. But they did talk to the people briefed by the people in the room and – twice removed from the original conversations – they all give the same account. It is that the older Trump children and Jared will be indicted for financial crimes while Mueller wants to charge Trump with obstruction of justice. The charges, Cockburn is told now, will not be about ‘Russia collusion’.
This is different from the story yesterday, which was that Mueller would ‘make the case for collusion’. It is different from what the former CIA director, John Brennan, said on Lawrence O’Donnell’s show on MSNBC this week. He thought that the children would be indicted and (like Cockburn) that it would happen on Friday. He also thought that the issue of Russia would be ‘addressed’ by Mueller with further indictments.
O’Donnell: ‘What makes you believe that he has more indictments?’
Brennan: ‘He hasn’t addressed the issue of criminal conspiracy as well as any individuals…’
O’Donnell: ‘Criminal conspiracy involving the Russians?’
Brennan: ‘The Russians, yes, yeah…’
One theory is that Mueller will deliver only an interim report. ‘Russia collusion’ would be saved for another day. But whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with Russia is specifically what the Office of the Special Counsel was set up to investigate. And as Brennan said on MSNBC, if Mueller were to ask for indictments of Trump’s family, he would know this would have to be his ‘final act’. ‘That would basically be the death of the Special Counsel’s office, because I don’t believe Donald Trump would allow Bob Mueller to continue in the aftermath of those types of actions.’ That would go double for any indictments of Trump himself. It might be now or never for Mueller to set out the case for collusion.
But wait! Surely a sitting president can’t be indicted? All that Mueller would – or could – do is pass the evidence and the accusations to the House of Representatives. It would fall to the House to charge – or impeach – the President.
It is true that DoJ policy says you can’t indict a sitting President. But as Cockburn has written before, that’s policy, not law. The DoJ has at various times issued different opinions on this. There may not be a constitutional prohibition on laying criminal charges against a sitting President and using the courts or a grand jury to do it.
If this is really the debate going on in the Attorney General’s office, it’s no wonder there’s a delay. As one veteran of Washington tells Cockburn: ‘There is a strange silence around town. Like the weird calm before a major hurricane.’ Weather reports – like journalists’ predictions – are notoriously unreliable but there’s still reason to think that the coming weeks will be a testing time in the history of the Republic.