What was Robert Mueller even doing?

Robert Mueller is a Vietnam War veteran with a Purple Heart who took down Enron and John Gotti. He’s always had nerves of steel, so all along he seemed like the perfect person to lead the Special Counsel investigation into Donald Trump’s Russia scandal. But as we all know, his probe ended up going virtually nowhere. Now a key piece of what he was (or more accurately wasn’t) doing has been revealed, and it’s baffling.

Attorney General Bill Barr’s scheme to strategically redact the most incriminating parts of the Mueller report is finally unraveling. A federal judge ordered the Department of Justice to unredact the identities of two people named in the report who did not testify before Mueller’s grand jury. Sure enough, those names have just been revealed, and they’re Don McGahn and Donald Trump Jr. Wait, a minute, what?

The publicly available portions of the Mueller report make clear that Don McGahn was the most vital cooperating witness in the obstruction of justice portion of the probe. Yet we now know that Mueller never bothered to put McGahn in front of a grand jury, which means that Mueller never made any attempt at indicting anyone for obstruction. This is alarming, considering that based on media reports and leaks alone, as many as a dozen of Trump’s current and former White House advisers could easily have been indicted for obstruction. Why did Mueller even bother investigating the obstruction case, if he was simply going to write a report about it and go home?

Then there’s Donald Trump Jr, who by his own admission was knee deep in the Trump-Russia election conspiracy plot. The only legitimate reason not to subpoena Junior to appear before the grand jury would have been if Mueller was planning to indict Junior, as you can’t ask people to testify against themselves. But the Mueller report spells out that Mueller decided not to indict Junior, based on the specious argument that he was too dumb to understand he was committing a crime. So if Junior wasn’t a target, Mueller should have been easily able to compel him to serve as a witness against the Russians he tried to conspire with. Yet that clearly never happened.

Robert Mueller spent the first half of his time as Special Counsel aggressively busting people like Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, only to spend the second half of his probe apparently doing nothing. If Mueller simply decided to pull his punches, that’s on him. But if someone was tying Mueller’s hands, even before Barr came along and shut him down, we need to know about it – because that person needs to go to prison for obstruction along with Barr.

The good news in this debacle is that Bill Barr had no possible valid reason for redacting the fact that Don McGahn and Donald Trump Jr didn’t testify to the grand jury. Now that the judge knows this, she’s even more likely to rule that Barr’s redactions were in bad faith across the board, and that the House impeachment inquiry has the right to the full unredacted Mueller report. But what a mess the Mueller probe turned out to be.

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