August 28, 2019
By James W. Dolan
How will history view the Mueller Report? I expect it will be seen as a well-intentioned and thorough catalogue of misdeeds (criminal or otherwise) committed to secure the election of Donald Trump and keep him in office despite compelling evidence of obstruction of justice. Many, including Trump, believed the revelations would undermine his presidency and likely lead to his impeachment.
Why, after a two-year investigation by a dedicated staff under the leadership of a highly respected Republican and former longtime head of the FBI, did the rocket fizzle? Perhaps expectations were unreasonably high. More likely, the launch itself was flawed in the first place when the administration, in the person of Attorney General William Barr, was given the opportunity in advance to interpret the report’s ambiguities in a light most favorable to the administration. Upon reviewing the document, he announced the president had been exonerated. By so doing, he undermined the impact of its revelations.
Secondly, Robert Mueller relied more on proven qualities of discipline and restraint rather than the bold leadership he demonstrated as a decorated Marine officer while serving in Vietnam. The releasing of the report, particularly in light of the spin and distortion by the administration, required a more aggressive advocate. It needed to be vigorously defended by the leader of the team that produced it. Expecting facts leading to a conclusion, the public did not understand the constraints under which Mueller believed he was operating. It was a time when asking for forgiveness, rather than permission, was called for.
Mueller’s failure to better define and strongly defend the report at a much anticipated congressional hearing was disappointing, perhaps, some speculated, due to health issues. It called to mind the lines in William Yeats’s poem, The Second Coming: “The best lack all conviction while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Without clear recommendations and a proposed course of action, the report misfired. It will eventually be filed away in history’s archives as just another opportunity lost. It was exhaustively researched but flawed by too much equivocation; a good plot but no resolution. The end of this very troubled era in the nation’s history will depend not on Congress or the courts but on the voters.
James W. Dolan is a retired Dorchester District Court judge who now practices law.