If he thinks you broke the law, Robert Mueller will dodge the law to get you.
In a search for terrorists as director of the FBI, for instance, he was officially in charge of the absolutely reckless, constitutionally amiss collection of detailed personal data on thousands of innocent citizens. He also defied legislative leaders, the attorney general and the principle of separation of powers by raiding a congressional office and refusing to return what he fetched.
Said to be fond of those who think like he does, he named Andrew Weissmann as his deputy in his special counsel probe of President Donald Trump. Weissmann once ran a government task force going after suspected corporate law breakers by repeatedly ignoring the legal rules of the game. So say defense attorneys, a book called “License to Lie” and the Supreme Court.
It unanimously overturned a lower court guilty verdict achieved through something like prosecutorial tyranny. The victim was an Enron auditor whose firm was destroyed and life ruined because Weissmann helped persuade a judge to leave out something legally required and crucial in his jury instructions.
Now, in Mueller’s probe of 20 months and $20 million to help overturn an election and get the president impeached, this special counsel, answerable to no one very much, threatens possible witnesses with years of prison if he doesn’t get them to talk. It’s an insidious if legal tactic.
It doesn’t stop because now we’ve had this pre-dawn raid on the home of Trump pal Roger Stone, the sort of thing referred to as “shock and awe” when the military starts a battle with stupendous, devastating force. Instead of getting Stone’s attorney to let him know by phone when and where to appear in court for his arraignment, we had armored cars, lights spinning on top of more cars, a helicopter overhead, amphibious vehicles in a nearby canal and a bunch of scary federal agents running around with automatic assault rifles.
Stone appeared at the door barefoot and in a T-shirt and shorts, concerned for his frightened wife, dogs and cats and, who knows, maybe armed with fingernail clippers. The officers were courteous when he opened the door, Stone said, but then there was the search of his house. Some used the word “Gestapo” in discussing what happened. It had that stench, and, to me, is something of a symbol of the whole Mueller probe, an intimidating degradation of what America stands for.
The probe is all about a supposed illegal collusion with Russians to help give Trump an election victory. But there’s been no released evidence of such a crime even though it should have been present from the start. What we have had are utterly disgraceful FBI shenanigans, and yes, we’ve had lots of arrests of Trump associates, but not for helping steal an election. Stone is suspected of telling the Trump team what was coming from Russian-abetted Wikileaks in its release of email dirt on Democrats and Hillary Clinton, but facts and a collusion charge are missing.
Stone’s a political trickster and is accused among other illegalities of lying to congressional committees. That’s bad, but please understand that James Clapper, former national intelligence director, once told Congress his agency was not collecting information on vast numbers of Americans while skipping the legally required warrant process, a lie he later talked about as being kind of, you know, necessary.
As CIA director, John Brennan denied that agents were checking out Senate computers of staffers looking into torture by the CIA, and that was false. Also, before Congress, he denied knowing much if anything about an infamous dossier that he seems to have known about to the point of crossed t’s and dotted i’s. It’s noted that earlier, as an Obama adviser on the matter, he told Congress that U.S. drones were not killing foreign civilians when Obama himself somehow knew better.
Nothing happened to these two and nothing happened to Hillary Clinton when her team destroyed emails subpoenaed by Congress. Does rule of law now depend on who you are, and will Stone avoid lying about Trump even it means spending the rest of his life in prison?
Maybe, when all is said and done, Mueller will have an ironclad impeachment case against the president. But it could also be that what Trump refers to as a “witch hunt” could really be fiercely determined imaginations trying to substitute for truth.
Jay Ambrose is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.