The Republicans Complaining about Mueller’s Non-Exoneration of Trump Don’t Care that He Exonerated Jeff Sessions

One of the new attacks Republicans launched on the Mueller Report yesterday is that Mueller explicitly did not exonerate Trump, complaining that prosecutorial discretion doesn’t include the power to exonerate. Here’s how John Ratcliffe put it yesterday.

The special counsel’s job — nowhere does it say that you were to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence, or that the special counsel report should determine whether or not to exonerate him. It not in any of the documents. It’s not in your appointment order. It’s not in the special counsel regulations. It’s not in the OLC opinions. It’s not in the Justice Manual. And it’s not in the Principles of Federal Prosecution.

Nowhere do those words appear together because, respectfully — respectfully, Director, it was not the special counsel’s job to conclusively determine Donald Trump’s innocence or to exonerate him. Because the bedrock principle of our justice system is a presumption of innocence. It exists for everyone. Everyone is entitled to it, including sitting presidents. And because there is a presumption of innocence, prosecutors never, ever need to conclusively determine it.

Except that Ratcliffe and other Republicans didn’t complain and aren’t complaining about the point in his report, as released, where he did exonerate someone, with Bill Barr’s approval: Jeff Sessions.

As set forth in Volume I, Section IV.A.6, supra, the investigation established that, while a U.S. Senator and a Trump Campaign advisor, former Attorney General Jeff Sessions interacted with Russian Ambassador Kislyak during the week of the Republican National Convention in July 2016 and again at a meeting in Sessions’ s Senate office in September 2016. The investigation also established that Sessions and Kislyak both attended a reception held before candidate Trump’s foreign policy speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C., in April 2016, and that it is possible that they met briefly at that reception.

The Office considered whether, in light of these interactions, Sessions committed perjury before, or made false statements to, Congress in connection with his confirmation as Attorney General. In January 2017 testimony during his confirmation hearing, Sessions stated in response to a question about Trump Campaign communications with the Russian government that he had “been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have – did not have communications with the Russians.” In written responses submitted on January 17, 2017, Sessions answered “[n]o” to a question asking whether he had “been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day.” And, in a March 2017 supplement to his testimony, Sessions identified two of the campaign-period contacts with Ambassador Kislyak noted above, which had been reported in the media following the January 2017 confirmation hearing. Sessions stated in the supplemental response that he did “not recall any discussions with the Russian Ambassador, or any other representatives of the Russian government, regarding the political campaign on these occasions or any other occasion.”

Although the investigation established that Sessions interacted with Kislyak on the occasions described above and that Kislyak mentioned the presidential campaign on at least one occasion, the evidence is not sufficient to prove that Sessions gave knowingly false answers to Russia-related questions in light of the wording and context of those questions. With respect to Sessions’s statements that he did “not recall any discussions with the Russian Ambassador . .. regarding the political campaign” and he had not been in contact with any Russian official “about the 2016 election,” the evidence concerning the nature of Sessions’s interactions with Kislyak makes it plausible that Sessions did not recall discussing the campaign with Kislyak at the time of his statements. Similarly, while Sessions stated in his January 2017 oral testimony that he “did not have communications with Russians,” he did so in response to a question that had linked such not have communications with Russians,” he did so in response to a question that had linked such communications to an alleged “continuing exchange of information” between the Trump Campaign and Russian government intermediaries. Sessions later explained to the Senate and to the Office that he understood the question as narrowly calling for disclosure of interactions with Russians that involved the exchange of campaign information, as distinguished from more routine contacts with Russian nationals. Given the context in which the question was asked, that understanding is plausible.

Accordingly, the Office concluded that the evidence was insufficient to prove that Sessions was willfully untruthful in his answers and thus insufficient to obtain or sustain a conviction for perjury or false statements. Consistent with the Principles of Federal Prosecution, the Office therefore determined not to pursue charges against Sessions and informed his counsel of that decision in March 2018.

In fact, Mueller must have provided similar explanations in at least four more instances, where he explained why other Trump people didn’t get charged, most often for lying.

But all of those other discussions were redacted under a personal privacy exemption (or, in the FOIA version, a b(5), b(6)/b(7)(C) exemption). Presumably, those other instances were less clearcut, or perhaps they simply weren’t someone as senior as Sessions. But redactions consistently applied would have redacted this passage too, denying Sessions (who would be running for his old Senate seat this year if Trump weren’t still angry that Sessions didn’t act more like Bill Barr while serving as Attorney General) of the public explanation why he wasn’t charged.

Nothing Mueller said yesterday indicated he had any complaints about the redactions in the report (though he was more willing to talk about why Trump Sr. didn’t testify — the discussion of which is partly redacted in the report — than Don Jr, which is redacted under the same grand jury justification).

But in the case of Jeff Sessions, the redaction process was not treated in the way applied with everyone else, especially including mentions of Don Jr. And Republican silence about that inconsistency suggests they don’t really have a principled stance about public decisions of exoneration.

39 replies
  1. Rugger9 says:

    It’s always about the details with Kaiser Quisling, the Palace and their willing GOP minions. The Rethugs know they need the Russians to intervene in 2020 and so from KQ on down are not lifting a finger to stop Putin.

    However, even though it wasn’t perfect, the hearings yesterday did get the Mueller report more into the public consciousness and that is a good thing. If enough MAGA trolls get disillusioned about KQ that razor-thin Russian-helped “victory” in 2016 evaporates. On our side we still need to press ahead with voter registration and to make sure the voters stay on the rolls by routine (i.e. quarterly or monthly) verification especially in places where the GOP is actively suppressing voters (like FL, GA and WI) to develop the audit trail for the court cases to come. What I see happening is the same stuff as in 2016 and 2018 where voters were “accidentally” dropped off the rolls due to “glitches” but that is harder to make work if the voters in question show several months’ worth of confirmations until the GOP kicked them off in time for the 2020 election.

    OT, but only sort of: it seems JE was found in his cell semi-conscious with marks on his neck. Given how KQ has been tweeting to deflect attention, it can be presumed that a lot of powerful people want JE dead or at least unable to talk. However, we do have all of those tapes and other records seized in the raids earlier which will do some of the talking for him.

    • Rugger9 says:

      OT but amusing, since it seems Kaiser Quisling’s standards are rubbing off on Mike Pence (whatever happened to “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”?) about paying his bills. I’m sure Pence like most Evangelicals of his ilk consider that because they are “saved” they can stiff others with impunity. Yeah, I know it’s by way of Raw Story but it’s also what Sheriff DiSalvo predicted on Monday.

      The stuff to “html” is needed to get to the site, stopping at “article” gives a lost page error.

      • Vicks says:

        In 10 days this desperate to be purple neck of the woods has had to endure:
        The Western Conservative Summit* featuring a warm up by crowd fave Don Junior, a visit from America’s first princess Ivanka, and the above mentioned attempt to boost the fragile hold Cory Gardner has on his seat seat by the unremarkable M Pence.

        *I not sure if it made more than the local news but the nations first openly gay governor somehow received an invitation to speak at the summit.
        To the surprise of all and the delight of many, he accepted, showed up at this god awful event and (considering the circumstances) let’s just say he rocked it.

    • Democritus says:

      How the DC set spent last night, thread

      No wonder they normalize everything, they are in their own little bubble.

      I’m totally on board with Soledads complaints of how the NYT especially Maggie was framing yesterday’s coverage.

      “This is not what those reporters were saying. And please note: Maggie then went on CNN, where she had a chance to frame the ‘under appreciated’ aspects of this story, and did not. So no. That is not what happened. They were saying ‘whoo, he’s dull’.”

      • Rugger9 says:

        It’s also why Chuck Todd is a waste of time, he’s too focused on the horse race for its sake to do actual journalism (IIRC the term is “journalamism”). For someone whose sole qualification is that he’s a political junkie (his CV has bupkis, yet he has a MSM show), he’s not getting at the key leveraging points that could really help his ratings.

        Likewise Friedman put out another bothsidesdoit column that only seemed to be missing the Friedman Unit (= six months, I can’t stand reading him).

        • Mongoose says:

          Maggie’s mother works for the Trump syndicate, so consider the source. And also, I would please ask these doofuses not to tell me what is “dull.” If they had the slightest concept of what they were watching, they would be singing a different tune. With respect to Friedman, I have always wondered who feeds him his “ideas,” since he is incapable of thinking on his feet.

        • Peacerme says:

          I saw him on some show the other night, and I was surprised to agree with much of what he said. He came out strong for impeachment right now! He was emphatic about it. I did not agree about his assessment of “the squad” or his fears of left going too far left. He basically stated that we won’t pick up the Obama/trump voters if we go too far left. (Yah I get that but the far left voices are good because it moves the center). He was particularly harsh about Warren and Bernie and socialism, which reminded me that he’s not that smart or interesting. I simply agree with him that Pelosi is neglecting her role as leader by not behaving in line with the truth that Russia influenced our election and it has severely weakened our democracy. It’d be nice if she behaved as if this were true. (She’s instead behaving as if trump is just an annoying bad boy instead of a misogynistic racist, xenophobe fascist patsy in a coup against the USA by Putin).

      • Americana says:

        It’s beyond stupid to compare what Mueller could do yesterday w/one of the more infamous TV examples of hot button responses to baited questions. Will McAvoy in The Newsroom isn’t ever going to come alive in Congress when someone has to be wary of his testimony being twisted under these horrendously portentous circumstances for the sake of our country. It would have been great if Mueller could have gone that way but his only opportunity would have been a carefully legally parsed summation of the Mueller report. That was never going to happen. The responsibility for this rested on the questions and preparation for those questioning Mueller. On that score, the Dems did their sworn duty and they did it remarkably well w/some outstanding individuals like Schiff.

        Here’s one of the more pernicious falsehoods we’ve got to counter and beat down as fast and furiously as we can. This lie has been around for awhile but it’s been gaining tremendous steam w/Russian trolls over the past day and a half. From Trump not “having any business in Russia (that he would acknowledge anyway, hehe), we’ve now gone to Trump having fallen for a fabricated business deal vouched for by his Russian mob fixer and in which Putin would have been given the $50 MILLION PENTHOUSE. And yet we’ve got Russian trolls up the wazoo trying to give this BS traction. Two of the better sites for coverage of the Trump Tower Deal are Medium — . Search and destroy this BS:

        DeplorableBiochemist 2 hours ago
        Got news for ya sparky, Trump tower was 100% setup by the FBI

  2. PieIsDamnGood says:

    Thanks Marcy.

    Copy-paste mistake in the quote? Looks like a couple lines repeat.

    “Similarly, while Sessions stated in his January 2017 oral testimony that he “did not have communications with Russians,” he did so in response to a question that had linked such not have communications with Russians,” he did so in response to a question that had linked such communications to an alleged “continuing exchange of information”

  3. drouse says:

    Of course they don’t care about Sessions, he’s an apostate. He recused himself and failed in his duty to protect Trump

  4. Savage Librarian says:

    Nay, Nay

    “N” is for No, not now, nay, nay,
    “A” is for Ask but please go away,
    “N” is for Not never, but for delay,
    “C” is for Cannot do it today,
    “Y” is for You must do as I say,
    “P” is for People of the USA,
    “E” is for Everyone follows my way,
    “L” is for Leverage to level the fray,
    “O” is for Opening hearings, hey,
    “S” is for Safely winning the day,
    “I” is for Inquiry and more, I pray.

  5. mospeck says:

    John the Rat R-TX4 is auditioning to be our new DNI.
    Could a lawyer please legally analyze and shred his 5 minutes..his pseudo legal Perry Mason bit against poor old Bob Mueller, for his failing to reach an obstruction conclusion? If someone like this is to replace Coats as DNI–as the coordinator/overseer between our intel agencies for the upcoming 2020 elections (that Mueller is warning us about and the need for strong coordination between our intel agencies) then it seems like the Russians win and we are a lost ship kleptocracy, just like them. But then I’m not a lawyer. Is the underlying system strong and resilient enough to stand up against AG Barr and DNI Ratcliffe?

  6. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The Democrats are as unlikely to pick up appreciable numbers of Trump voters as Trump is to lose a hundred pounds and adopt a crewcut and overalls look.

    That approach seems to be based on yesterday’s questionable advice from “consultants” dependent on the largesse from big donors. It takes no notice of what is peculiar to Trump, what the GOP has become after acknowledging him as their God Emperor, and what is likely to motivate its own voter base.

    Ms. Pelosi is many things: timid and fearful are not among them. She has chosen her course and is fighting hard to stick to it, while pretending to be open to change.

    Pelosi is running out the clock, preventing Congress from properly investigating Trump beyond the narrow confines of the not-much-read Mueller Report. That means that none would ever take place and Trump will enjoy well-heeled, protected retirement. Not much of a start for a new Democratic administration, but a good way to drive down voter turnout and prevent that administration from ever taking office.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      More Democrats are lying about an impeachment inquiry, aided and abetted, of course, by Chuck the Toddler.

      Sean Patrick Maloney, D-NY, in effect, says, Shit, yea, Trump deserves impeachment but the act of holding him to account would become a “partisan circus,” implying that that would frustrate the fact finding purpose. And because the GOP Senate would refuse to find him guilty, which confuses a Senate trial with a House inquiry. The argument implies that it is advocates of an inquiry who are not “reality based.”

      No one seems to ask why or attribute the partisanship, gaslighting, and obstruction to the GOP. It is assumed that the Dems are incapable of explaining themselves and that the MSM would default to its standard bothsiderism. leaving the public with a deflated, pox on both your houses, I’m not voting mentality. If true, the Dems do not deserve to win or to govern.

    • earlofhuntingdon says:

      As Adam Serwer said on twtr, “the putatively objective press has internalized Trump’s own metrics for evaluating public events.” Good thread from Serwer below.


    • Vicks says:

      F’ing monsters all of them.
      I have been listening to the coverage of the ousting of the governor of Puerto Rico.
      Has anyone (that people actually listen to) pointed out that it only took 12 days for our morally superior brothers and sisters of PR to get rid of their monster? Just 12 days between and catching him doing privately, things that are in the exact same spirit of what our guy does publicly and Ricky is history

    • P J Evans says:

      This is a test set of questions, and only half the sets have the citizenship one. They’re trying to get a feel for the responses. (The test set is something they normally do.)

      • Rugger9 says:

        That was noted in the article, but since the question was included in spite of the SCOTUS ruling and Wilburrrrr’s abandonment (officially) it’s still a problem and the excuse is being test-driven as well.

        Also, the DK commentary had this exchange between Rep Pressley and a Palace flunkie, which is why attention must be paid to what they actually do:

        ” …Rep. Ayanna Pressley asked Census Bureau director Steven Dillingham, during a Wednesday House Oversight subcommittee hearing, to clarify details of Donald Trump’s executive order demanding that each federal agency assemble its existing citizenship data and send it on so that a government-wide data set could be crafted.

        Specifically, she asked whether the data being collected would be specific enough that it could be used as the basis for Electoral College and House of Representatives reapportionment among states (of the sort that anti-immigration Republican strategists are demanding) and whether the Census Bureau, which he runs, would be handing the collected citizenship data over to assist states in doing their own post-census, citizen-filtered redistricting.

        He couldn’t answer those questions, which, as you can imagine, did not satisfy Pressley. “Let me get back to you on that,” he promised. He’s now been given 10 days to do so, so expect to hear more on this in nine days and 16 hours or so. …”

        • Vicks says:

          I don’t understand why this is not making more news?
          You can’t “test” something that you have been banned from doing.
          It’s another major FU to our justice system and the judge needs to call them out.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    All round average guy Josh Hawley – Stanford, Yale, Supreme Court clerk, Senator, and GOP crown prince (along with Liz Cheney) – hates the “cosmopolitan elite.” He seems to hate doing his homework, too, or just lies in his speeches.

    In his recent keynote speech to the National Conservative Conference, Hawley rejected the so-called “cosmopolitan elite” (echoing an anti-Semitic trope), who condemned “patriotism and place.” This from a guy who returned from DC to Missouri only to run for national office.

    Hawley cited sources for his argument, but largely misquoted them or took their views out of context. One, for example, did not condemn patriotism generally, but the “patriotism of scoundrels,” among whom he listed Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell.

    Hawley got one thing right: American corporate and financial elites have hollowed out the American economy and condemned average men and women to lives more commonly associated with medieval serfdom: “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” He gets fuzzy about naming the people responsible for that, but is careful to exclude himself and the other elites listening to him.


    • mospeck says:

      tx Frank, wicked clever stuff from Randy Rainbow. Didn’t know about the guy, but now he’s on my hit parade. It does seem like there is a concerted effort by Don the Con, Moscow Mitch, John the Rat, Bill the cat Barr, Cheshire Esq. and many others in the supporting cast, trying to make us more like that principled paradigm of virtue, Russia–with their free and fair elections, just like they had yesterday.
      It’s #MuellerTime from Russia with Love

    • Tom says:

      I heard that, too. The conspiracy cranks always start that semi-hysterical, rapid-fire Alvin & the Chipmunks speaking mode and then get louder and more frenetic. Paula Reid was able to put some of what Eastman said into a more reasonable frame, but earlier in the program she, too, said something to the effect that Adam Schiff had “got out over his skis” in the past by stating he had evidence of collusion when actually there wasn’t any, at least according to Paula. Fortunately, Jill Wine-Banks was able to clarify for listeners that actually there was evidence of conspiracy, or co-operation, between Russia and the Trump campaign, but not enough for Mueller to lay a charge with a likely prospect of conviction. After all these months, TV/radio journalists like Paula still grappling to understand the phoniness of the “no collusion!” claim!

      • bmaz says:

        Paula is not wrong that Schiff has gotten ahead of himself a few times here and there in the past. Saw no evidence of that yesterday though. And, for what it is worth, Paula is an extremely bright and good reporter.

        • Tom says:

          Perhaps I was unfair to Paula Reid. I appreciate having your opinion of her professional abilities and I would agree that she’s been a reliable reporter in the past. As klynn and pdaly comment above & below, Paula did a good job of debunking Dr. Eastman after the men in white coats hustled him away from the microphone, figuratively speaking.

  8. pdaly says:

    I only caught the later part of the On Point broadcast in time to hear guest John Eastman, in his chipmunk voice as Tom aptly says above, squeak “Michale Steele!”, “Michael Steele!”, “the Dossier!” “Democrats and Fusion GPS payments!”

    Meghna Chakrabati had to correct Eastman that the author of the Dossier is “Christopher Steele” and someone (a female voice, maybe Meghna again?) had to correct Eastman on the name and pronunciation of Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

    After hearing his conspiracy theories that the Democrats were controlling Mueller’s Russian investigation I was surprised to learn Eastman has a JD and is a law professor.

    Fortunately guest Paula Reid did a great job in the remaining minutes dismantling Eastman’s long rant of Republican Party talking points. (although I missed her comments about Adam Schiff).

    • bmaz says:

      I gotta go look for that I guess. I’ve always though Reid has done a pretty good job over the years.

    • Tom says:

      I had the impression that Meghna was caught off guard when Dr. Eastman started speaking in tongues about the Steele dossier and the Democrats’ conspiracy with the Russians. Because he’s a law professor (and member of the Federalist Society and other conservative organizations, according to Wikipedia), she was probably expecting a sober academic instead of the gibbering zealot who materialized at the other end of the phone line.

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