What's Tony Thinking

After Mueller: Now What?


What to make of Robert Mueller’s “over and out” performance this week? A bit of a head-scratcher.

“I can’t say he did not obstruct justice but neither can I say that he did.” “There’s evidence that the President obstructed justice but sitting Presidents can’t be charged with a crime so we didn’t charge him.”

Say what?

It wasn’t easy to decipher what Robert Mueller told us in his brief statement this week. One thing only was clear — Russia had mucked around in our elections in a big way and you all (Congress, White House, Mitch McConnell) need to do something about that. This fairly major bit keeps getting lost in the fevered efforts to exonerate or impugn Trump. We’re staring at the dirty window instead of looking through it to see what’s out there.

Beyond this bit of clarity, however, it was anybody’s guess.

I had two theories about what Mueller’s message might be.

Theory One. Possibly Mueller was telling Congress, “I’m not going to give you a ‘highlight reel.’  You will have to actually read my report and figure it out for yourselves.

Once I spent two days presenting before a congregation and its leaders everything I knew about enormous cultural shifts impacting churches and ways to adapt and respond faithfully. The final afternoon the session was, I thought, to be a time when that congregation’s leaders would talk among themselves about their next steps. My role was a background one, or so I thought.

When we got to that final afternoon session the twenty or so leaders looked at me and said, “What do we do now?” I was a bit miffed. I thought, “Gee, I’ve already told you everything I know — now you’ll have to figure out what you’re going to do with it in your church and context. I’ve done my job, now you do yours.” 

I wondered if Bob Mueller was saying something like that whether to Congress or the American people. “I’ve done my job. Now you do yours.”

That’s theory one.

Theory number two came from recalling another experience in my professional life. It was a time when for legal and ethical reasons I could not tell a congregation everything I knew.

It was a personnel issue. I was circumscribed both by what I could and could not reveal legally as an employer. Moreover, I didn’t want to tarnish someone’s reputation, or appear to be trying to do so.

But it all meant I was swallowing more words than I was speaking and resisting the natural, if often disastrous, human impulse of self-justification. I hated it. But I saw no alternative. I said the bare minimum and left it at that, even though a good part of me wanted to broadcast the entire, sordid story.

While my experience (or both of my experiences) are very small potatoes by comparison to the matter at hand, I wondered if there might be something like this going on with Mueller. Sure there was tons more he could have said, maybe would like to have said, but for reasons either legal or ethical he wasn’t going to say it.

He was going “good soldier” on this one, with the sure and certain result that he would be attacked by both sides, as indeed he has been.

What’s that old saying? “No good deed goes unpunished.”

Was my mind changed on impeachment, which I’ve thought a not good idea? No.

Here’s why: 1) Trump so loves having an enemy that impeachment proceedings would be a gift to him that keeps on giving to the 2020 election and beyond, and 2) that there’s no indication that any of the Republicans in the Senate are budging. Therefore, it would be an exercise in futility and grandstanding.

Does that mean nothing is to be done? No. The day after Mueller’s remarks the editor of Lawfare Journal and a Brookings Institute fellow, Benjamin Wittes, had what I thought was an excellent piece on what the Democrats in Congress could and should do at this juncture, and some things they should not do or stop doing right now.

Basically, his idea is that they bring the Mueller report to life by holding televised hearings with key figures. In other words, less than one hundredth of one percent of Americans are going to read the damn thing, so you have to figure out another way to get the information out there.

The catch here is that the Democrats have to demonstrate both focus and discipline. Can they do it? Hats off to Nancy Pelosi as she school-marms her chattering, excitable room full of first-term Congress people. That can’t be easy.



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