Accuracy in Media

Special counsel Robert Mueller seems to have given up on proving President Trump colluded with the Russians during his presidential campaign, but his allies in the mainstream media are not ready to let it go.

“BREAKING NEWS: The key isn’t that Trump is not (yet) a “target but that he IS a SUBJECT of Mueller’s investigation & that Mueller will a REPORT on what Trump did, why, and what it adds up to. This is HUGE,” tweeted Lawrence Tribe, the liberal Harvard law professor and frequent cable TV news guest.

“Mueller’s assurances that Trump is not a ‘target’ don’t mean much,” read the headline on a Politico story.

“Mueller told Trump he’s not a criminal target. But that doesn’t mean his evidence against Trump is weak,” read the headline in The Washington Post.

“Report: Trump under investigation, but not criminal target of Mueller probe,” wrote NBC News in a headline on its website. “The Washington Post said special counsel Robert Mueller told Trump’s lawyers that he was preparing a report about potential obstruction of justice,” read the subhead.

“Mueller said last month Trump is not a criminal target ‘at this point:’ Washington Post,” read the headline at Yahoo!

“Mueller is said to have told Trump he is not a target, but probe continues,” wrote the Boston Globe in its headline.

The point the mainstream media wants us to take away is that Mueller may not have found anything with which to charge the president … yet … but he’s still under investigation, and a number of promising avenues remain to be explored.

“For Trump,” wrote Aaron Blake at the Washington Post, “it reinforces his apparent belief that he is in the clear. For his critics, it’s the idea that a wily Mueller might be duping Trump into a false sense of security so he’ll grant Mueller an interview.”

Mueller indeed may not even be thinking in terms of charging Trump, the media tells us. But it’s not because he hasn’t found sufficient evidence; it’s because someone in the Office of Legal Counsel in 2000 wrote that it may not be proper to charge a president.

The Post’s Carol Leonnig and Robert Costa noted this analysis from Randolph Moss, then an assistant attorney general:

“In 1973, the Post’s Robert Costa wrote, “the Department of Justice concluded that the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president would unduly interfere with the ability of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned duties and would thus violate the constitutional separation of powers. No court has addressed the question directly, but the judicial precedents that bear on the continuing validity of our constitutional analysis are consistent with both the analytic approach taken and the conclusions reached. Our view remains that a sitting president is constitutionally immune from indictment and criminal prosecution.”

Mueller isn’t bound by this opinion, but “he is a longtime creature of the Justice Department who may decline to step outside the bounds of what the Justice Department has previously recognized as its authority,” wrote Blake in his Post analysis piece. “Going outside those bounds would also potentially invite allegations of overreach – of which Trump and his defenders have already accused Mueller’s investigation – and possibly complicate the prospects of any political resolution (i.e. impeachment). In other words, Mueller has plenty of reason not to try to charge Trump with crimes, even if the evidence would lead him to charge basically anyone else.”

What the Post is saying is it suspects Mueller is holding off on charging Trump because he doesn’t think Trump can be a criminal target of a probe and/or because he doesn’t want to do anything to reduce the possibility of impeachment for Trump.

“If that is what Mueller is saying, it also means him saying Trump isn’t a criminal target says basically nothing about the evidence at hand,” Blake concluded. “It would mean Mueller could have the most damning information about collusion, obstruction of justice and anything else, and he would technically be telling Trump’s lawyers the truth when h says Trump isn’t a criminal target. And it wouldn’t foreclose impeachment.”

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