Accuracy in Media


By now, it has become a familiar refrain: Forget all that we hear about how special counsel Robert Mueller could not find any evidence of collusion between President Donald Trump and his campaign and associates with Russia or that the president turned over all requested documents and staffers for interviews, submitted to written questions and let the special counsel finish his investigation.

There was ample evidence to charge the president with obstruction of justice, and prosecutors would have done so if not for “unique nature of the case – the investigation of a sitting president of the United States, and one who tried to use the powers of his office to thwart and even close down the special counsel’s investigation.”

Murray Waas of the New York Review of Books declared this to be so and further says he learned of the conclusions from two former Mueller prosecutors “not by any leak, either from them personally or from the office of special counsel. Rather, the two prosecutors disclosed this information in then-confidential conversations with two other federal law enforcement officials, who subsequently recounted what they were told to me.”

This violates almost every rule set out by Perry Bacon of FiveThirtyEight in “When To Trust A Story That Uses Unnamed Sources.” It is attributed to only two people, and even then, it is a third-party recollection of a conversation in which the reporter did not participate. Given the sourcing, the quotes are virtually impossible to verify – another tipoff that a story probably is not true.

The third-hand sources are identified only as “former Mueller prosecutors,” which means the story runs up against Bacon’s recommendation that “specifics matter” when identifying anonymous sources.

Waas claims the Mueller team prosecutors “would have advocated” that Trump face federal criminal charges for obstruction.

He then claims that “without consulting Mueller, Attorney General William Barr declared that in the absence of a final judgement by Mueller as to whether or not the president broke the law, he, the attorney general, had taken it upon himself to make that determination in a summary he sent to Congress. But many career Justice Department employees, former prosecutors for the special counsel and legal scholars have questioned the propriety and legitimacy of Barr’s making such a decision.:”

Barr has said he spoke to Mueller about the summary he released on Mar. 27, but Mueller declined to review the 4-page letter before it was released and that the two had worked together on what material to redact from the full report, which was released earlier this month.

Waas’ claim that “many career Justice Department employees” had questioned the attorney general’s decision not to prosecute the president for obstruction of justice is exceedingly vague and can’t be verified.

Waas noted that Mueller pointed to 11 instances he thought might amount to obstruction of justice but that although he “declined to say which of the 11 he believed was a potential criminal violation, he did signal in his report those that his office considered to be the strongest cases …” and “appeared to imply that those were instances that prosecutors or Congress should act. A careful reading of Mueller’s report appears to suggest that, in particular, the president’s alleged effort to shut down the Flynn inquiry was one that the special counsel considered among the strongest potentially chargeable instances.”

Waas also claims without evidence Trump attorneys Jay Sekulow and Rudolph Giuliani “conducted a concerted campaign of off-the-record briefings to reporters for at least half a dozen major news organizations to deny and discredit” his “disclosures” that the incident in which the president allegedly asked then-FBI Director James Comey to go easy on then-national security adviser Michael Flynn was the most prosecutable “offense” the Mueller team investigated.

The effort “could be judged largely successful in that it shut down public discussion of the issue for more than nine months.”

He does not state that the prosecution’s evidence against Flynn is so flimsy – some officials even wonder if Flynn lied about anything at all – that he still has not been sentenced more than a year after his conviction.




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