After the U.S. Department of Justice released the Mueller report on Thursday, much of the American public was left wondering: What comes next?
Benjamin Wittes, co-founder and editor in chief of national security blog Lawfare and author of five books, sought to answer that question with five different answers at the Yale Law School on Tuesday afternoon, just two days before the release of the report. The event was moderated by law professor Kate Stith.
Wittes, who is also a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, began his talk by jokingly answering the question with, “Ask me the day after tomorrow” before delving into four “more serious” answers. His next answer to “What’s next?” explained that since Mueller is a criminal prosecutor, the end of a criminal investigation means there is no next step. He also emphasized the broader implications of this reality to the media.
“A lot of people on cable television are really upset because the Mueller investigation is over and that means there aren’t going to be more criminal cases …” he said.
Wittes also pointed out that the public should not be surprised that the criminal investigation was over without a presidential indictment because not much of President Donald Trump’s individual conduct was the subject of the investigation.
Wittes’s third answer to the question “What’s next?” considered the counterintelligence aspect of the Mueller investigation, in which he concluded nothing would change “as long as there is a perceived Russian intelligence threat.” But he added that counterintelligence against the Russians has been going on since the Soviet Union era, and if there continues to be a threat, U.S. investigations into Russian interference will continue beyond the Mueller report.
“[The Russia investigation] has no end either,” he said. “The investigation will not end because Bob Mueller says his investigation is over.”
Wittes’s third answer to “What’s next?” surrounds the ethics of Mueller’s ability to conduct the truth commission, a body tasked with investigating the government. Wittes criticized how the U.S. let a federal prosecutor carry out the investigation.
“The answer to the ‘What next?’ question in this context is pervasively dependent on how much of the truth we want to get from this,” he continued. “In this polarized environment, we want very different truths. I think it is reasonable to hypothesize that were going to have a protracted period of fighting about what this document actually means.”
Wittes’ fourth and final answer to “What’s next?” predicted the future steps the legislative branch may take next. Wittes criticized the legislative branch for putting the investigative responsibility on the executive branch, even though the scope of the investigation involved the president.
“Congress has done no parallel investigation of its own on any of this because they’re waiting for that report because that report is their impeachment investigation,” Wittes said. “It was a truth commission investigation on a very specific story which … allowed Congress to sit back… and do none of the investigative work itself. [Congress] gets a finished piece of work product and [will] evaluate it and decide, ‘Is this acceptable for our purposes?’”
Attendees, both inside and outside of the Law School community, were enthusiastic about Wittes’ thoughts on the Mueller investigation.
Nikko Price, LAW ‘20, said he had worked in government before and came to the event because he was interested in the Mueller report and Lawfare.
Isabella Berg, a high school student from Newport, said she came to the event for to hear Wittes speak about “new interpretations [of the Mueller investigation] that were more legitimate than the way the news unpacks everything.”
Wittes co-founded Lawfare in September 2010.
Claire Lee | firstname.lastname@example.org