Andrew Weissman, who was a top prosecutor on the team of Special Counsel Robert Mueller during the Justice Department’s Russia investigation, reveals his perspective on the proceedings in a new book, Where Law Ends: Inside the Mueller Investigation. Weissman reveals private pressure on the prosecutorial team thanks to the looming threat of President Donald Trump’s nearly constant belligerence.
Weissman characterizes Trump as “like an animal, clawing at the world with no concept of right and wrong,” and he notes examples of the damaging impact, like in the case of Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. Manafort’s lies “were encouraged by the president, who made sympathetic noises about Manafort with the suggestion that stonewalling might earn him a pardon,” as The Atlantic summarizes Weissman’s explanation. Ultimately, pressure like that had an impact — “Trump’s pardon power… kept [the Mueller team] from being able to push uncooperative targets as hard as in an ordinary criminal case,” as The Atlantic poignantly summarizes.
In the time since Mueller’s investigation, the machine of the federal government has been turned for the favor of Trump’s political allies more than once. Trump commuted the prison sentence of his longtime ally Roger Stone, which meant that Stone did not have to serve a day of the sentence that he had been dealt after getting found guilty of Mueller probe-connected obstruction of justice charges. Trump’s ally Michael Flynn was also charged as part of the probe — and the Justice Department has moved to drop the case against Flynn entirely. A legal battle over the fate of Flynn’s case is ongoing.
As The Atlantic explains, “The Special Counsel’s Office also worked under the constant threat that Trump would fire Mueller, as Richard Nixon had fired Archibald Cox, the first Watergate special prosecutor, in the Saturday Night Massacre.” According to Weissman:
‘The specter of our being shut down exerted a kind of destabilizing pull on our decision-making process.’
Decisions like the refusal to subpoena Donald Trump Jr. and the refusal to even ask for testimony from Ivanka Trump were affected by the fear of getting shut down, Weissman explains. Speaking of the refusal to confront Ivanka specifically, Weissman explains that the team “feared that hauling her in for an interview would play badly to the already antagonistic right-wing press—Look how they’re roughing up the president’s daughter—and risk enraging Trump, provoking him to shut down the Special Counsel’s Office once and for all.”
As The Atlantic explains, Weissman also writes in his book that “that the real reason for not compelling the president to be interviewed was Mueller’s aversion to having an explosive confrontation with the White House.” Trump did eventually submit written answers to questions from Mueller’s team, but those answers do not seem to have produced much of anything substantive for the team.
Eventually, Mueller’s team issued their final report, which specifically and explicitly did not exonerate the president — although he and some of his allies have claimed that he received “total exoneration” anyway. Now, Trump is rushing into the 2020 presidential election pulling out all the stops to secure a victory by just about any means necessary.