Today the Guardian is home to a preview of a new book by writer and possible fabulist Michael Wolff. I say fabulist because this is Wolff’s second book covering the Trump White House, and the first, “Fire and Fury,” was a dumpster fire. For instance, he claimed that Stephen Miller wrote the travel ban using Wikipedia as a source, when, love him or hate him, Miller was Jeff Sessions’s adviser on immigration policy for several years (see What Caused Michael Wolff’s Strange And Provably False Attack On Stephen Miller?). Even the Washington Post couldn’t stomach his claim that Nikki Haley was having an affair with President Trump (see AMAZING. Washington Post Takes Michael Wolff To The Woodshed Over His Slander Of Nikki Haley). The major claim in this new book is that Robert Mueller’s team prepared an indictment of President Trump.
And yet Wolff reports that Mueller’s office drew up a three-count outline of the president’s alleged abuses, under the title “United States of America against Donald J Trump, Defendant”. The document sat on the special counsel’s desk, Wolff writes, for almost a year.
According to a document seen by the Guardian, the first count, under Title 18, United States code, Section 1505, charged the president with corruptly – or by threats of force or threatening communication – influencing, obstructing or impeding a pending proceeding before a department or agency of the United States.
The second count, under section 1512, charged the president with tampering with a witness, victim or informant.
The third count, under section 1513, charged the president with retaliating against a witness, victim or informant.
Wolff writes that the draft indictment he examines says Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice “began on the seventh day of his administration, tracing the line of obstruction from National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s lies to the FBI about his contacts with Russian representative[s], to the president’s efforts to have [FBI director] James Comey protect Flynn, to Comey’s firing, to the president’s efforts to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation, to his attempt to cover up his son and son-in-law’s meeting with Russian governmental agents, to his moves to interfere with Deputy Director of the FBI Andrew McCabe’s testimony …”
The draft indictment, Wolff writes, also spelled out what Mueller considered to be the overriding theme of Trump’s presidency: the “extraordinary lengths” taken “to protect himself from legal scrutiny and accountability, and to undermine the official panels investigating his actions”.
According to Wolff, Mueller endured tortured deliberations over whether to charge the president, and even more tortured deliberations over the president’s power to dismiss him or his boss, the then deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein. Mueller ultimately demurred, Wolff writes, but his team’s work gave rise to as many as 13 other investigations that led to cooperating witness plea deals from Michael Cohen, David Pecker of American Media and Trump Organization accountant Allen Weisselberg.
Mueller’s spokesman has categorically denied the underlying documents exist:
In an author’s note, Wolff states that his findings on the Mueller investigation are “based on internal documents given to me by sources close to the Office of the Special Counsel”.
But Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, told the Guardian: “The documents that you’ve described do not exist.”
The response from the media has been skeptical:
A crucial phrase: "according to Michael Wolff." https://t.co/EbZ5oTsEkK
— Jonathan Swan (@jonathanvswan) May 28, 2019
“Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller, told the Guardian: “The documents that you’ve described do not exist.”” https://t.co/CT3Hm8SCIV
— Ken Dilanian (@KenDilanianNBC) May 28, 2019
It's plausible the Special Counsel's office has some independent written product on whether president can be indicted (Ken Starr did) and it's possible there are memos on strongest obstruction arguments. But that's lightyears away from "draft indictments" that are "shelved."
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) May 28, 2019
Notably, Peter Carr weighs in with an outright denial "The documents that you’ve described do not exist.” That doesn't mean there's nothing to it at all (see eg Buzzfeed denial), but it does mean we can presume that something is materially wrong in the reporting.
— Susan Hennessey (@Susan_Hennessey) May 28, 2019
I don’t think the lines are all that clear here.
If you’ll notice, Mueller’s spokesman doesn’t address the veracity of the actual claim, rather he dismisses it all on the narrowest of grounds, that a draft indictment did not exist. To a cynic that is an implied admission that a document of some kind does exist, just not the document as described by Wolff.
The media are in the business of breaking big stories and the fact that this could have happened under their noses and Wolff found it out and they didn’t would have to rankle. Plus, it is pretty hard to square the circle of Mueller refusing to make any kind of a finding in regards to “obstruction” in his report while knowing his office had a draft indictment. Note, also, that none of them are claiming it didn’t happen, they are simply attacking the fat, slow-moving target that is Wolff’s credibility.
What convinces me that something like this document exists, and that it exists in the form of something that looks similar to an indictment is that Mueller’s deputy was a vicious and dishonest (the former is an opinion, the latter is documented in court records) Hillary Clinton partisan named Andrew Weissmann. Most of Mueller’s staff were Democrat donors. The odds of them not drafting an indictment, regardless of DOJ policy to the contrary, in my view, approaches zero. Of course they did. They would because they believed that could convince the somnolent Robert Mueller to present charges to a grand jury. They would because they could resist the pleasure of at least pretending that they were going to be key instrument in removing Trump from office.
This leak of Wolff’s book is timely and, if Mueller deigns to appear before any House committee, Republican lawmakers should grill him on exactly what kinds of documents were circulated by his staff.