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The Legal Implications Of AG Barr's Mueller Report Summary

Mar 24, 2019
Originally published on March 24, 2019 5:43 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to turn to Seth Waxman. He is a former federal prosecutor. We've been checking in with him over the last year to try to understand the legal process behind the special counsel's investigation. Mr. Waxman, thanks so much for joining us once again.

SETH WAXMAN: Thank you for having me.

MARTIN: Would you talk a bit more about the legal framework that the special counsel seems to have laid out in this report?

WAXMAN: Sure. I mean, first, just before getting to that, I mean, this has to be characterized as pretty much an unmitigated victory for the president. I mean, you have special counsel Mueller, who's run this two-year investigation, having found no basis to charge. I know he's been a little bit more ambiguous in the obstruction context. But, you know, the conclusions reached are very favorable to the president, obviously. And any talk of impeachment or removing the president from office through a Senate trial, I mean, those things have just swung so far the other direction to the extent there was any movement in that direction based on what we're now learning today.

MARTIN: So are there any legal implications of the summary that the attorney general laid out, Attorney General Barr laid out in his letter to Congress?

WAXMAN: Well, sure. I mean, there can be. So we still haven't seen the details. And when the Democrats get ahold of those details, they could be bringing up all sorts of things, you know? What constitutes grounds for impeachment are clearly different on whether you can charge someone, criminally. Criminally, it's beyond a reasonable doubt, the proof has to be. Impeachment is high crimes and misdemeanors. What does that mean? It really means whatever Congress wants it to mean.

So if there's a whole host of very, very difficult and troubling conduct in Mr. Mueller's report described, that doesn't mean that the impeachment proceedings can't go through. But, you know, as we all know, it's a political question. And unless there's some ground-swelling of American sentiment that, you know, a president needs to be removed, it's typically not going to happen. And to the extent Mr. Trump was obviously - or that groundswell hadn't risen to this point, this report seems to move even further away from that.

MARTIN: Now, obviously, the president, well, seems still quite angry about the whole thing, at least, judging from his public remarks as he was leaving Florida today. And he continues to insist that this was illegal. This was an illegal inquiry. Is there any good faith basis for that assessment?

WAXMAN: No, none whatsoever. And the president has made all kinds of statements that are incorrect as a legal matter. But, you know, I think we've come to know this president to relish in his victories and to battle hard against any defeats. And this is a day that he's celebrating a victory, so it's not surprising to me that he's come out and said this report completely exonerates me. It doesn't say that. In fact, it says quite the contrary. But, you know, that can be mincing words at the end of the day.

Once again, this is the - Robert Mueller, by all accounts, you know, a person highly qualified to conduct this investigation and found no basis to charge and, you know, did not make any suggestion to Congress that there should be impeachment proceedings.

MARTIN: And, finally, can I just ask you to reflect on the question I asked the former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales a few minutes ago, which is the - Robert Mueller's decision to leave the question of obstruction to the attorney general to decide. And I think the attorney - the current attorney general took pains to point out that he consulted with the deputy attorney general on this question. What's your take on that?

WAXMAN: Yeah. Frankly, I was a little disappointed to see that. I mean, we don't know how the sausage was made quite yet, so there may be reasons that are not apparent right now. So I'd want to hold judgment in total. But, look, I mean, special counsel Mueller, highly qualified. He's the lead prosecutor that had been running this investigation for two years.

Who else is in a better position to say whether or not, you know, there's enough evidence to constitute a crime or constitute a basis for impeachment proceedings? To have moved that decision or allowed that decision to go to the attorney general, to me raises some serious questions, you know? The attorney general's seeing this report or been involved a couple of weeks.

MARTIN: All right. We have to leave it there for now. That was Seth Waxman, former federal prosecutor. Thank you so much for talking with us. He's currently a partner at the law firm of Dickinson Wright. Mr. Waxman, thank you so much. This is Special Coverage from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.