Editor’s Note: Shanlon Wu is a former federal prosecutor and CNN legal analyst. He served as counsel to Attorney General Janet Reno. Follow him @shanlonwu. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
Special counsel Robert Mueller concluded his decades of public service today with something between a bang and a whimper.
His 10-minute statement about his two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election used too much “inside-the-beltway” legal nuance and was delivered with a modesty from a different era that obscured the powerful message hidden within.
Let me translate: (1) President Trump is lying when he says that Russia did not interfere with the 2016 election with the intent to hurt the candidacy of Hilary Clinton and help the candidacy of Donald Trump; (2) President Trump is lying when he says Mueller found him innocent of obstruction of justice; (3) Attorney General William Barr has misled Congress and seeks to mislead the American people; (4) the Trump administration is doing nothing to protect us from further attacks on the integrity of our election system.
Where does this leave us? In the hands of Congress.
Whether or not Mueller was trying to send a message to Congress does not matter. He did. The message is contained in the 448 pages of his report and the exhibits; in his stepping back from any negotiations over access to his team’s underlying work product like interviews, grand jury testimony; in Attorney General William Barr’s actions and the administration’s inaction.
It is up to Congress – in particular the Democrats – to work with that message, plumb it, and, most importantly, work to translate it and communicate it effectively to the American people.
In particular, Congress must speed up and toughen its approach to compelling testimony. Up until now, lawmakers have been reluctant to show too much aggression with their subpoena power, relying on old rules of engagement in which DOJ and Congress negotiated over such matters. But those old rules will not work today and they must accept that in order to be effective.
Here is what they need to do:
Russian interference: Congress needs to hold further hearings to explain and illuminate the facts and evidence that led to Mueller’s conclusion that Russia interfered on the side of Trump against Clinton.
Obstruction of justice: Congress needs to hold further hearings to explain and illuminate the facts and evidence comprising President Trump’s efforts to obstruct justice.
Attorney General Barr: Congress needs to subpoena him to explain how he misled Congress by trying to make it seem like Mueller told him that the Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel’s prohibition against indicting a sitting President played no role in Mueller’s decision in choosing not to reach a prosecution decision about charging Trump. It did, and his efforts to suggest otherwise were intentionally misleading.
National security: Further hearings need to be held on the Trump administration’s failure to safeguard our election process. Those who insist there is no threat must testify under oath and be confronted with contrary facts. Their explanations need to be heard by the American people.
Mueller and his team did a Herculean job in uncovering a great deal of truth in a very short time. What is to be done with those truths is now up to Congress and to us. All too often we throw up our hands and complain that Congress can do nothing.
But Congress is made up of two parties named after our democratic republic’s governing principles. And that democratic republic is made up of us – we the people.