Special counsel Robert Mueller has kept mum on virtually all media reports on his investigation. He evidently responded to BuzzFeed News because of his ethical obligations as a prosecutor, says a legal expert.
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s rebuke of BuzzFeed News for its report on President Trump and Michael Cohen was in line with Mueller’s criminal and ethical obligations, Robert Weisberg of Stanford Law’s Criminal Justice Center told the Washington Post. BuzzFeed said prosecutors had evidence that Trump directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress, which could meet the definition of the “high crime or misdemeanor” needed to initiate impeachment proceedings. Under the federal rules of criminal procedure, evidence that comes before a grand jury is confidential. These rules apply only to grand jury secrecy and do not cover the investigation as a whole. A prosecutor can inform the public about general goals or themes of an investigation. While there is no bar on prosecutors commenting on pending cases, it is nevertheless rare for one to do so.
Mueller’s statement, which said that BuzzFeed’s description of statements made to Mueller’s office “are not accurate,” didn’t implicate the grand jury and “did not say what evidence was or was not presented, and it only vaguely referred to the investigation,” Weisberg said. Mueller did not mention which BuzzFeed details were false, but it still signaled at a minimum that the website did not have the facts straight. Legal experts believe Mueller would have preferred to say nothing, but he feared specifics of the BuzzFeed story would be imputed to the investigation. Former acting attorney general Stuart Gerson called the Mueller statement “an anomaly.” He said, “Mueller’s staff must have felt that action might be taken in the House on the basis of this, or that it might affect the testimony of present and future witnesses.”