If you were one of the people who in the past couple of years shouted “Lock her up!” at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump, this column is for you.
There’s a paragraph in the Mueller report you need to read.
It’s about the same topic that led you to the conclusion that Hillary Clinton belonged in jail.
In a section explaining one of the reasons why he failed to reach legal conclusions regarding the potential obstruction of justice by the president or his aides, special counsel Robert Mueller wrote:
“Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated — including some associated with the Trump Campaign — deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.
“Accordingly, while this report embodies factual and legal determinations that the Office believes to be accurate and complete to the greatest extent possible, given these identified gaps, the Office cannot rule out the possibility that the unavailable information would shed additional light on (or cast in a new light) the events described in the report.”
This is the state of American democracy.
It’s Clinton believing she ought to be able to keep an email server in her home.
It’s Trump and his children and aides making an absolute mockery of public accountability laws.
It’s then-Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens and his staff using text-destroying apps on their phones to avoid detection. It’s the Trump administration making it impossible for the special counsel to do his job right because the evidence — some of it anyway — has been destroyed.
This is not a new problem.
In Missouri government, it’s been around for at least a decade. That was when then-Cole County Circuit Court Judge Richard Callahan approved a settlement in a Sunshine Law case brought by then-Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat, against then-Gov. Matt Blunt, a Republican. In the end, the case resulted in the release of more than 60,000 emails but no real admissions over whether the law was broken. In the 10 years since, little has been done to bring the state’s public accountability laws up to speed.
“Some good lawyers believe this case raised issues that should never be answered,” Callahan said.
The Mueller report continues to ask the same questions.
Do we really care about public accountability, or only to the extent that partisans can use it as a wedge against their opponents?
For more than a year now, St. Louis lawyer Mark Pedroli has been seeking that answer in a lawsuit filed against Greitens, accusing the governor and his staff of avoiding the Sunshine Law by using the text-destroying app Confide on their phones. Former Attorney General Josh Hawley, now a U.S. Senator, gave his fellow Republican a pass on the issue, perhaps because members of his staff were also using the phone app, and, like Clinton, he was engaging in public business on private email servers. Pedroli still presses the issue, but the judge who sits in Callahan’s old office, Jon Beetem, hasn’t given the attorney the green light to seek depositions that might provide the answers he seeks.
“Privatizing government communications off government servers or destroying communications is a fundamental threat to our democracy,” Pedroli says. “Judges must act unflinchingly in the face of rogue government action.”
Ten years after the Blunt email scandal, the state of public accountability in Missouri government is lower than it was then, because now there is no recourse for taxpayers to eventually obtain the documents that explain how government decisions were made as they’re being destroyed in real time.
Ten years after the Mueller report, without any action by elected officials to turn the tide on freedom of information issues, we’ll be in the same place as a nation, no matter which party occupies the White House, because the norms of public accountability are being destroyed before our very eyes.