If the President Is Not the Subject of a Criminal Investigation, Then Say So

Well is he, or isn’t he?

Almost everything in a counterintelligence investigation is classified. And much of what goes on in a criminal investigation is secret, kept confidential by investigators and prosecutors. But there is one thing that need be neither classified nor otherwise concealed from the American people: the status of the president.

Is the president of the United States the subject of a criminal investigation?

If he is not, then the Justice Department and special counsel Robert Mueller owe it to the country to say so. There is no reason to be coy about it. In fact, because a president under criminal suspicion would be crippled, his inability to govern detrimental to the nation, it is imperative to be forthright about his status.

Instead, political games are being played and the public is forming an impression -- which I strongly suspect is a misimpression -- based on semantics. There is no guaranteed outcome in an investigation, but the government should not be able to keep from us the precise nature of the investigation when it involves the president and when the fact that there is an investigation has already been disclosed publicly.

We’ve been told that the main investigation, the one that deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein has appointed special counsel Mueller to conduct, is a counterintelligence investigation. That is what former FBI director James Comey revealed (with the approval of the Justice Department) in House testimony on March 20:

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts. (Emphasis added.)

In appointing Mueller on May 17, Rosenstein issued an internal Justice Department order stating:

The Special Counsel is authorized to conduct the investigation confirmed by then-FBI Director James B. Comey in testimony before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence on March 20, 2017, including (i) any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Donald Trump[.]

Thus, to the extent it involves the president, the investigation announced to the public is a counterintelligence probe. That matters because it would mean the president is not a criminal suspect. A counterintelligence probe is not intended to build a criminal prosecution. It is intended to collect information. Its purpose is to uncover the actions and intentions of foreign powers to the extent they bear on American interests.

Yet the New York Times reports that Rosenstein, in briefing the Senate Thursday: