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Highlights from the Mueller hearing

On July 24, former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before two House committees. He had already in May – when announcing his retirement – said: “The report is my testimony.” This was an indication that nothing new would come forward in a hearing.

Having said that, there were some clarifications of the report that seemed to surprise some people, and a few rare moment where Mueller was more candid, saying for example: “Problematic is an understatement.”

What you need to know and understand going in:

  • Mueller declared in his opening statement that he would not comment ongoing investigations. There is also information that is deemed privileged that he would not comment.
  • Mueller was careful to not misconstrue anything in the report. For this reason he can appear hesitant when asking for repetitions on wordings and citations. Also, he turns 75 years old next week. Some critics, however, took his demeanour to mean he wasn’t confident in understanding hos own findings.
  • At the outset of the investigation there was a decision to go forward only after taking into account the OLC (Office of Legal Counsel at the Justice Department) opinion that indicated that a sitting president cannot be indicted. That is to say: a president can not be formally accused of committing a crime. This meant that the Office of Special Counsel would not pursue the determination of culpability, given that indictment is not possible. In Mueller’s words: “we made a decision not to decide whether to prosecute or not.”. This is unique, but it is also a unique situation. This is why the report does not claim to label the president as guilty or not quilty – and why the report clarifies that it does not exonerate the president. Critics took issue with this, arguing that the investigation did not fulfil its assignment. Vox explains in more detail.
  • Some critics are saying that it was not the job of Special Counsel to exonerate or not exonerate Trump, questioning the validity of including in the report that “this does not exonerate Trump”. This ties back to the fact that the unique circumstances of not pursuing culpability. By making this decision, there was an additional decision to clarify in the report that culpability was not determined. More importantly: the entity that could determine if the president obstructed justice is Congress.
  • Why did the counsel not subpoena Trump? The president declined to be interviewed by the investigation for more than a year. The decision to not subpoena Trump, according to Mueller, is in light of the fact that the report needed to be completed and the expectation was that Trump would fight the subpoena, instigating an appealment process that would cause the report to be significantly delayed.

Wikipedia has a useful timeline of all the events concerning the investigations into Trump and Russia.

Let’s start with maybe one of the most important moments:

It’s important because, later in the day, Trump denies that Mueller said this and goes on to verbally attack Paula Reid from CBS:

But, again – the reason for not indicting is because American law makes it impossible:

This is what Trump did:

And even an unsuccessful attempt to obstruct justice is still a crime:

If you missed it, the report does not in any way exonerate the president…

For those not taking the investigation itself seriously, there was a reminder of the Trump advisors and associates who as of yet have been convicted or charged:

Speaking on Trump’s repeated promotion of Wikileaks, Mueller goes as far to say: “Problematic is an understatement.”

For Republicans wanting to pass this off as a politically driven investigation, Mueller had a clear message:

Here, Mueller clarifies how important he thinks it is for the American people to understand the significance of election interference:

The full exchange between Adam Schiff and Mueller is wort watching. On the stolen report, “witch hunt” and blatant lies.

“We should hold our elected officials to a higher standard than merely avoiding criminality, should we not?” Schiff again, rounding off.

Bonus. This was a weird coincidence:

As always, Trevor Noah can give you a quick summary:

The collusion / conspiracy debacle

There was this point when Mueller was being questioned by Doug Collins around whether or not collusion was synonymous with conspiracy. After the the confusing exchange, Mueller had to resort to simply stating: “I leave it to the report” — which really is what his message is throughout. Many critics claimed this exchange to be a display of how Mueller didn’t have a clue about what his own report says. However, Collins’ question unfortunately lacks context, which ultimately most quotes from the report will. CNN explains:

On page 180 of volume one, the Mueller report said: “Collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the U.S. Code; nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law. To the contrary, even as defined in legal dictionaries, collusion is largely synonymous with conspiracy as that crime is set forth in the general federal conspiracy statute.”

This part of the report was talking about collusion in the sense of corporate collusion, which is when companies conspire in an illegal fashion to help each other and hurt consumers. 

That is completely unrelated to “collusion with Russia,” which has been the colloquial term used over the past few years to discuss potential cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Russian government.

As always, there rarely are shortcuts to real knowledge. If you truly want to form an educated opinion, you actually do need to read or listen to the report rather than rely on sound bytes and snippets.

Have fun! 😄

Per Axbom

Per Axbom

@axbom

Per Axbom is a Swedish communication theorist born in Liberia. For two decades he has educated digital professionals and helped organizations with digital usability and accessibility. His job is to listen to people and make sure technology does not become a controlling and limiting factor, but instead a sustainable, caring aid. You can hear his voice on UX Podcast.

Digital compassion book cover Per's recent handbook on managing ethics in tech, Digital compassion, is available to order from Amazon in Kindle format. Send an e-mail to Per for more options.

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