Back in 2009 and 2010, I served as an expert witness for the prosecution — and testified for several hours each in the respective legal proceedings, his competency hearing and his formal trial — against Brian David Mitchell (aka “Immanuel David Isaiah,” the kidnapper of Elizabeth Smart).
Needless to say, it was a remarkable and quite interesting experience.
One subsidiary thing that it brought home to me in a very forceful way was the importance of competent defense counsel, even in a case such as Mitchell’s, where his guilt was undisputed. (The only question, really, was whether he was mentally competent to stand trial and then, at the trial, whether he was legally insane.)
Growing up, I had always naively wondered why certain very competent attorneys would defend certain plainly guilty and deeply loathesome criminals (e.g., serial killers and the like).
Now, of course, I understand it. If a trial has been argued as powerfully on both sides as circumstances and the law allowed, the verdict is more solid. The judgment will very possibly not be appealed (thus further taxing the resources of the judiciary) and the judge’s reputation will be preserved intact. Judges want the attorneys on both sides to be as effective as possible and to make their respective cases as powerfully as they can.
A similar point seems to me to be relevant in the case of the current “Mueller probe” into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election (and related matters). This is an important investigation, and a great deal of controversy and partisan, agenda-driven sensationalism swirls around it. The investigation should, therefore, continue as long as it needs to continue, and be as thorough as it needs to be, in order to assure the public that its findings are solid. It should not be cut arbitrarily short. If it comes out critical of Donald Trump, its reasons for doing so should be as nearly unassailable as possible. On the other hand, if it eventually dismisses the accusations that have been leveled against Mr. Trump — which, people shouldn’t forget, is also a possibility — those eager for Mr. Trump’s scalp should have no plausible or reasonable grounds for dismissing the results of the investigation as a “whitewash.” Every thing needs to be done right, and thoroughly.
Now. Is Robert Mueller conducting the probe properly? I honestly don’t know. I haven’t been following it or the surrounding controversy closely at all, on the assumption that, when his team publishes its report, that will be the time to evaluate it. In the meanwhile, Mr. Mueller is remaining distinctly quiet about things, and simply proceeding with his work. This is, I think, as it should be.
I heard a certain Republican congressman today, though, who asserted that Robert Mueller is an unprincipled hack who doesn’t hesitate to violate the law and who is determined to get Mr. Trump no matter what, even if he has to distort the evidence in order to do so.
This was disheartening to me.
I’m not going to argue that Mr. Mueller is a spotless saint. I don’t know him. But he appears to be a decent and respectable guy. Here are some things worth knowing about him.
He is, for one thing, a conservative Republican. He’s not a Democrat. He graduated from Princeton University before serving in the Marine Corps. For his service in Vietnam, he earned the Bronze Star, with a “Combat ‘V'” for heroism, as well as the Purple Heart. Returning to the United States, he earned his law degree at the University of Virginia, where he made law review.
After three years of private practice in San Francisco, he was appointed an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the same city. Afterwards, he served as a United States Attorney, an Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and, for a time, as Acting U.S. Deputy Attorney General. Then he was appointed by President George W. Bush to a ten-year term as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. President Barack Obama gave that original ten-year term a two-year extension, so that his tenure extended from 2001 to 2013, This makes him the longest-serving FBI Director in American history other than J. Edgar Hoover.
This is a man who has given notable service to his country. (Need I point out that President Trump’s record of civil and military service is, umm, not entirely comparable?) Robert Mueller shouldn’t be demonized. And it won’t hurt us much to wait until his investigation is fully complete. The partisan attacks and the hyperbole should stop.