The big lesson from the Mueller report

  • 22 April 2019
  • NormanL

The public release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report has the media falling back into its old, discredited, ways. Setting that sad, predictable spectacle aside, what are average Americans supposed to learn from Mr. Mueller's investigation? Reason magazine's Nick Gillespie offered some pointed insights on the process used to investigate the president, and how similar tactics are routinely employed against citizens. Consider the idea of "obstruction," paticularly when there's no underlying crime:

I don't care that much that Trump was trying to obstruct justice in this instance. Certainly, if there is no underlying crime, you shouldn't get in trouble for lying to the feds, even though it's technically illegal. Section 1001 of Title 18 of the United States Code makes it a crime to

"knowingly and willfully … make[] any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation" in the course of "any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative, or judicial branch" of the federal government.

But should it be? We'll come back to the White House in a moment, but the way this sort of usually plays out for the little people is that, as Jim Talent observed last year in National Review,

The FBI gathers information about a person, finds facts that the person might want to conceal — not because the facts prove a crime but because they are embarrassing for some other reason — then asks about those facts in an interview, on the expectation that the person will lie and thereby incriminate himself.

As Popehat blogger (and Reason contributor) Ken White has detailed extensively, FBI agents are trained to get you to lie, thereby being able to arrest you or squeeze you however they want.

It's a refreshingly libertarian take on how the legal system manufactures criminal conduct. It's a dangerous practice that is also commonplace. Gillespie says most talking heads will miss that key point:

...there's a bigger takeaway worth underscoring, one that is vastly more important than Donald Trump who, truth be told, is acting how most presidents have acted in the past and will act in the future.

The bigger takeaway is that the federal government exercises vast and nearly unchecked power over virtually every aspect of our lives. As civil libertarian and Three Felonies a Day author Harvey Silverglate has told Reason, there are literally hundreds of thousands of federal regulations under "each of the federal criminal statutes … [and] you're just assumed to know [them] and you can be picked up and you can be charged and these are real criminal violations." And if that doesn't work, the feds can snag you simply by talking to you. Contempt for Donald Trump shouldn't obscure that brutal reality, which will outlive the Mueller report and probably most of us, too.

This concern should be the focus of any post-Mueller debate -- because this is affects us all.