Many Republicans lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee relied on a similar strategy in their questioning former special counsel Robert Mueller: basing their questions on a false premise. A false premise is an incorrect proposition that forms the basis of a logical argument. Republican lawmakers consistently provided the conclusion of their argument as a premise to the questions they were asking, resulting in deceptive exchanges that did more to obscure the facts than resolve them. The following are some examples of Republican lawmakers utilizing faulty premises in their questioning of Mueller. Note: this is not an exhaustive list.
- Doug Collins
In his opening statement, Rep. Doug Collins, a Republican from Georgia, spoke for over four minutes and laid out a number of incorrect if not outright false statements about the finds of the Mueller report. Collins appeared to intentionally and repeatedly mischaracterize the findings and conclusions of the Mueller Report.
For example, Collins stated that the investigation “reviewed whether Donald Trump, the president, sought Russian assistance as a candidate to win the presidency, Mr. Mueller concluded he did not, his family or advisors did not, in fact the report concludes no one in the president’s campaign colluded collaborated or conspired with the Russians.”
During his questioning of Mueller, Collins ended by saying, “Those are the facts of the Mueller Report — Russia meddled in the 2016 election, the President did not conspire with the Russians, and nothing we hear today will change those facts.”
The Mueller report did not conclude that the president and his advisors did not “collude, collaborate, or conspire with the Russians.” In fact, Mueller’s report never addresses “collaboration,” and explained that “collusion” was not a legal term. He also stated “there was not enough evidence to prove conspiracy.”
- John Ratcliffe
Rep. John Ratcliffe (R-Texas) began his questioning of Mueller by asking him “which DOJ principle or policy sets forth a legal standard that an investigated person is not exonerated if their innocence from criminal conduct is not conclusively determined?” Ratcliffe is essentially referring to the fact that prosecutors normally make a decision to charge someone or not.
Mueller began to explain, saying that “this is a unique situation” before Ratcliffe cut him off.
Ratcliffe thus shows that Mueller treated Trump differently than he would treat a normal suspect in an investigation, however, he doesn’t allow Mueller to explain why, making his treatment of Trump appear nefarious.
But, as former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal noted, Ratcliffe misstated the special counsel regulations. “Ratcliffe dead wrong about the Special Counsel regs. I drafted them in 1999. They absolutely don’t forbid the Mueller Report. And they recognize the need for a Report ‘both for historical purposes and to enhance accountability,” Katyal said.
Similarly, CNN legal analyst and former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti explained that this was, indeed, a unique situation with a sitting president that could not fit within the confines of standard prosecutorial conduct.
“In this case, Mueller could not indict Trump because he is a sitting president. Mueller could have concluded Trump committed crimes and said so. He did not do so because it believed it would be unfair to Trump because Trump couldn’t challenge that conclusion in court,” Mariotti tweeted Wednesday morning. “Although Mueller found ‘substantial’ evidence that Trump committed crimes, he didn’t state his conclusion that Trump committed crimes.”
“If he said nothing more, it would have given Congress and the public the false impression that he had insufficient evidence to prove guilt. He knew he was writing for Congress and the public, because impeachment is the constitutional remedy for criminal activity by a president. To try to be fair, Mueller said that while he refused to say whether he concluded Trump committed crimes, he didn’t exonerate him,” he continued.
“In this particular case,” Mariotti concluded, “Trump’s allies are complaining about a decision by Mueller which was very fair and restrained towards Trump. Ratcliffe’s argument obscures that underlying context, which is important.”
- Steve Chabot
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) spent most of his time questioning Mueller asking about Natalia Veselnitskaya–the Russian lawyer with Kremlin connections who attended the infamous 2016 Trump Tower meeting–and why matters related to her contact with Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson weren’t addressed in the Mueller Report in detail. Mueller consistently responded that the matter was “outside the purview of his probe.”
“When discussing the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting, you reference ‘the firm that produced the Steele reporting.’ The name of that firm was Fusion GPS. Is that correct?” Chabot asked at one point.
As report Adam Klasfeld noted, however, this was likely a tactic to make it appear that Mueller had overlooked these matters when compiling his report despite Veselnitskaya’s indictment being a distinctly different inquiry from Mueller’s.
“GOP Rep. Chabot, who can’t pronounce the name of Natalia Veselnitskaya, kept asking Mueller about matters outside the purview of his probe to suggest he overlooked them. (Note: Veselnitskaya was indicted by SDNY. That’s why Mueller keeps saying it’s ‘outside [his] purview’),” Klasfeld tweeted following the exchange.
- Louie Gohmert
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) began his questioning by asking Mueller who wrote the comments he read during his May press conference, to which Mueller responded, “I’m not going to get into that.” Gohmert followed by saying, “Ok, so that’s what I thought, you didn’t write it,” a statement which had no basis in fact. He then tried to hammer away at the idea that Mueller and fired FBI James Comey were “good friends,” to which Mueller said they were “business associates” and “friends,” though they hadn’t spoken for at least six months prior to being appointed special counsel. Gohmert went on to state that Mueller “hired a bunch of people that did not like the president” and that Trump “knew he was innocent, he’s not corruptly acting in order to see that justice is done.”
“What he’s doing is not obstructing justice; he is pursuing justice, and the fact that you ran it out two years means you perpetuated injustice,” Gohmert said.
But according to former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance, the assertion that Trump was innocent is not supported by either the available facts or Trump’s actions.
“Gohmert also asserted Trump knew he was innocent. But his actions in many cases look like those of a man who believes he has committed crimes. Obstruction keeps prosecutors from getting to the truth of the matter. That’s why it’s a crime,” Vance said.
University of Michigan law professor Barb McQuade made a similar observation, saying, “Contrary to the rant by [Gohmert], it is still obstruction of justice even if the subject thinks he is innocent. It is the interference with the work of the investigators that the law prohibits.”
[image via YouTube screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.