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Rod Rosenstein Jumps the Shark

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By: Jack Shafer – politico.com – May 2, 2018

Rod Rosenstein is doing a star turn as principled defender of the law, but he’s performed abysmally as deputy attorney general and President Donald Trump would be fully justified in firing him.

The leaked questions that special counsel Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump in a prospective deposition are, if accurate, a sign that Mueller has spun out of control on Rosenstein’s watch.

The questions suggest a free-floating investigation of the president’s motives, undertaken by a subordinate of the president. This is unlike any special-counsel investigation we’ve ever seen and represents a significant distortion of our system.

Per the questions, Mueller wants to know how Trump reacted to news stories in the Washington Post. What he thought of FBI Director James Comey during the transition. What was the purpose of a statement he made to Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business Network. What he meant by a various tweets about Comey. How he feels about his attorney general.

This is a sweeping and intrusive inquiry that isn’t just about about official acts, but about the president’s state of mind. Mueller doesn’t just want to know what Trump did or what he said, but what were his thoughts in any given moment.

It’s an avenue of investigation that is literally boundless. Mueller wants to know what Trump did when the news broke in January 2018 that the president considered firing Mueller the year before. Perhaps now there will be a question about what Trump thought when the New York Times reported that Mueller wants to ask him about his thinking.

These queries grow out of an obstruction of justice probed centered, as far as we can tell, on Trump’s exercise of the legitimate powers of the presidency. Mueller is out to prove that Trump had ill intentions. But this is an inherently problematic inquiry that involves a subordinate second-guessing the president on highly political questions.

It is doubtful that a president can be guilty of obstruction of justice in exercising his official duties, precisely because passing judgment on the lawful acts of a president is not a matter for prosecutors or the courts, but for the political process (i.e., for the impeachment process if the acts are deemed abuses of power). It’s another matter if a president has engaged in actual criminal conduct, like suborning perjury or bribing witnesses, but there is no indication that Mueller is investigating anything of that nature.

What makes Mueller different from previous special counsels is that his predecessors were given the mission of investigating specific alleged crimes. As my National Review colleague Andrew McCarthy has repeatedly pointed out, Rod Rosenstein mentioned no crimes in his initial order to Mueller, a violation of the special counsel regulations. He said only that Mueller should investigate collusion and anything related.

This amorphous, wide-ranging guidance appears to have allowed Mueller to effortlessly slide from an amorphous, wide-ranging investigation into Russian meddling into an amorphous, wide-ranging investigation into obstruction of justice. (Rosenstein followed up 10 weeks later with a more specific memo to Mueller giving him more detailed authority.)

Now, judging by the leaked questions, obstruction is the lion’s share of Mueller’s work. Absent smoking guns that we aren’t aware of (always possible), this is bizarre and disproportionate. …

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