A strange thing is going on right now and I have not heard a single pundit talk about it. Robert Mueller is still employed as the Special Counsel, and Rod Rosenstein is still employed as the Deputy Attorney General, at the Justice Department under Attorney General William Barr.
It’s been two weeks since Robert Mueller delivered his report and the team he supervised was disbanded. You will recall that Rod Rosenstein said he would leave the Justice Department after Robert Mueller finished his report. It’s been more than two weeks since the complete report was submitted, but Rosenstein and Mueller still work for the Justice Department and no one is talking about why or when they are departing. So, what’s going on?
Barr has an absolute interest in keeping Rosenstein and Mueller working under him for now. When the two men become private citizens, Barr will have less control over how and when they will testify in front of congress. As long as they are DOJ employees, any inquiry from a member of Congress that came to either of them, would be vetted through Barr. However, members of Congress will be more free to reach out directly to either of them when they are private citizens, and they could answer questions directly without interference from Barr. Mueller, as a former Marine, surely respects chain of command, and as long as he is employed at the DOJ he will likely remain silent, or get permission from the AG to issue any statement.
However, it is expected that a Special Counsel eventually returns to private citizen status, and it is this status that is meant to ensure the former Special Counsel will have the ability to speak freely without political influence. This is proper and expected, so there is no reason to expect that Mueller will remain silent once he is no longer employed by the DOJ. No wonder the Attorney General is willing to keep him employed.
So, why don’t Mueller and Rosenstein resign, so they can better defend themselves and their work? Did Rosenstein really concur with Barr that there was no case for collusion, or did he concur only that the Attorney General had the authority to make that call, or that the DOJ could not bring charges, given the policy? The Barr memo seems to be carefully worded to be ambiguous. Why don’t Mueller and Rosenstein resign, so they can more easily clarify these and other questions?
It’s clear now, that Rosenstein and Mueller had to work hard, including placating Donald Trump with assurances that he was not a criminal target of their investigation, in order to ensure the investigation was not prematurely ended by the White House. When the investigation did finally end, it seemed abrupt and there were a lot of loose ends left untied. As long as Mueller can stay in his position at the DOJ, he can work with the prosecutors that have taken over the ongoing investigations. His ability to to stay on and ensure a smooth transition is invaluable. Likewise, Rosenstein appears to be committed to stay on to defend the investigation and to bear witness. For now, the men seem to be locked in an uneasy dance. When the music finally stops, the real story will unfold.
Cheryl Kelley lives in the DC area with her husband and young son. She is active in government and politics.