On Monday, writing for The New York Times, former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman outlined why he believes former special counsel Robert Mueller didn't "stand a chance" against a concerted effort by President Donald Trump and Attorney General William Barr to sabotage his investigation, culminating with the commutation of Roger Stone — and outlined how such a situation could be avoided in future.
"From the start, Mr. Mueller was restrained by Justice Department regulations," wrote Akerman. "He was barred, for example, from looking into the broader relationship between Mr. Trump and Russia through a review of Mr. Trump’s financial records and tax returns. Furthermore, according to the Mueller report, Mr. Trump made multiple attempts to fire the special counsel, and it is difficult, if not almost impossible, to conduct an investigation under those circumstances."
By contrast, Akerman wrote, "In the Watergate investigation, the special prosecutor decided not to indict Nixon because Congress was actively considering impeachment. After convicting the major figures in the scandal, including two attorneys general, almost no one (except Nixon) was pardoned and no one had their sentences commuted. Upon completion of our investigation, we issued a report without anyone in the executive branch spinning its results."
With Watergate-style independence, Akerman argued, even the commutation — which is broadly considered an unchecked power of the president — might have faced more obstacles: "If Mr. Mueller’s prosecution team had been truly independent and was still intact, they would have the ability to contest the constitutionality of the president’s grant of clemency to Mr. Stone."
"Looking ahead, there needs to be a better mechanism in extraordinary circumstances — like Watergate and Russian interference in the 2016 election — that allows for the appointment of a truly independent special prosecutor," concluded Akerman. "We were lucky to get the Mueller report, but Mr. Mueller was acting under restraints ... as we did with Watergate, that office should have true independence to protect our country and Constitution."
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