Special Counsel Robert Mueller shook up the chess board today when he read a lengthy prepared statement to assembled reporters today. It’s not that he said anything unexpected, but the mere fact that he spoke out today at all was enough to catch everyone off guard. In calculating how Mueller’s words have changed the equation when it comes to Trump’s fate, it helps to start by figuring out why Mueller chose today of all days to give this speech.
Three things are happening right now that may have impacted Robert Mueller’s decision to finally speak up today. First, a federal judge ordered that William Barr’s DOJ publicly unredact all Flynn-related portions of the Mueller report by this Friday. Mueller triggered this by making a filing in the Flynn case which revealed that Flynn had provided crucial evidence and testimony against Trump. Barr can either meet that deadline or be held in contempt of court – and suffice it to say that those consequences are more severe and immediate than the consequences for contempt of Congress. Either way, now that Mueller has used what was left of his Special Counsel authority to put things in motion, there was no need for him to remain on the job.
Second, as it turns out, William Barr is in Alaska right now. It’s not that Barr could have stopped Mueller from holding this press conference. When you’re announcing your resignation, what can your boss do to stop you from speaking – threaten to fire you? But with Barr essentially off the political grid, the timing did prevent him from being able to hold some kind of competing press conference to try to muddy Mueller’s message.
Third, just yesterday, Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff told the Guardian that Robert Mueller crafted a criminal indictment against Donald Trump before changing his mind and not unleashing it. Wolff and the Guardian both say they’ve seen this document; Mueller’s spokesman claimed in response that no such document exists. If this indictment does exist, it’s a huge development, because it would mean that Mueller wanted to indict Trump and either pulled his punches or was forcibly overruled by Barr. If Mueller was hoping to steer the press away from this supposed secret indictment, his press conference today sure did change the narrative.
For the moment we don’t have any way of knowing what if any role each of the above three factors played in Robert Mueller’s timing. But there has to be a specific logic as to why he resigned today, and not two months ago when his report was filed, and not next month. We’ll find out soon enough, as Mueller’s resignation – and the de facto dissolution of what was left of his team – opens the door for a whole lot of secrets to come to the surface.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report