New York Times correspondent Peter E. Baker, former United States Representative Barbara J. Comstock (R-Va.), and CNN legal analyst Michael Zeldin debated developments in special counsel Robert Mueller's recently concluded investigation into foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election at the Institute of Politics on Wednesday.
The panel — entitled “Presidential Investigations: What Lies Ahead?” — broke down the potential implications of Mueller’s unreleased report.
Though the document has not yet been made public, U.S. Attorney General William P. Barr summarized Mueller’s report in a four-page letter released publicly on March 24. In the letter, Barr wrote the investigation found no evidence of coordination between the Trump campaign and Russian election interference efforts. Barr added that the special counsel did not come to a conclusion on whether President Donald Trump had obstructed justice.
Comstock, who is also a current IOP Resident Fellow, said she was surprised the special counsel did not make a definitive judgement on the obstruction of justice charge.
“Usually you would make a decision one way or the other,” Comstock said. “That’s the real surprise, is that there was no decision.”
Zeldin, another current IOP Resident Fellow, said he believes that Mueller would have come to a conclusion if he had been able to interview Trump.
“I have a theory and that theory is that Mueller wanted very much to interview the president and the Justice Department resisted that subpoena and then he stood down,” Zeldin said. “The absence of the evidence that he would have gained from that formal testimony is what caused him to hesitate to make the ultimate decision.”
Rather than speculating and waiting on the full special counsel report, Comstock said Congress should open investigations of their own.
“Congress has a very broad role in investigating,” Comstock added. “You could have hearings. There’s a lot that Congress can still do. They can subpoena a lot of this material.”
In response to an audience question about media credibility in light of the Mueller investigation, Baker highlighted the importance of distinguishing between reporters and pundits.
“A lot of people tend to overstate, overgeneralize about the media based on something they might have seen on Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow who — with all respect to both of them — are commentators, not journalists,” Baker said.
Several attendees said they appreciated Baker’s points about the public perception of the media.
“I thought Baker’s comment about the media not being monolithic was very important,” said Shelley Schussheim, who attended the event.
Andrew W. Liang ’21, a Crimson editor and event attendee, said he was impressed by Baker’s self-scrutiny as a reporter.
“You don’t often see journalists saying journalists should be held accountable,” he said.
Attendee Daniel S. Sullivan said he enjoyed Comstock’s comments about humanizing those involved in the investigation.
“It’s so easy today in the world of public discourse to be critical of folks on a personal level,” Sullivan said. “Comstock made some points that I found encouraging, that you have to evaluate people as human beings.”