In a new book that lauds President Donald Trump and lashes out at his critics, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro declares that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Trump campaign ties with Russia is effectively dead.
Her evidence? Pirro, a former judge, points to what’s missing from a special counsel indictment in February of more than a dozen Russians: namely, the fact that no charges were filed against Americans.
“The Russia collusion investigation is over,” Pirro wrote in “Liars, Leakers and Liberals: The Case Against the Anti-Trump Conspiracy.” “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced that himself, for all intents and purposes, when he indicted thirteen Russians for interfering in the election and said explicitly that no Americans had been knowingly involved.”
So, did the Justice Department’s No. 2 man announce the end of the Mueller probe back in February? Hardly.
Pirro’s claim turns on an action Mueller took on Feb. 16, 2018 — or rather, an action he didn’t take.
That day, the special counsel charged 13 Russians and three Russian entities with conspiring to defraud the United States and interfere with the 2016 presidential election. No Americans were named in that indictment.
A Justice Department press release stated, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.”
To Pirro, this meant that Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, reached the conclusion that the Trump campaign did not collude with Russia during the election.
But Rosenstein said no such thing.
While briefing reporters the same day, Rosenstein made clear the investigation was ongoing. At no point did he indicate that the absence of charges against Americans in this particular indictment meant that Americans couldn’t be indicted in the future.
Ironically, Pirro’s claim contains a footnote that severely undercuts her assertion. She cites an article from CNBC that emphasizes the opposite of her point.
The article’s headline — “Rosenstein: No Allegation of American Involvement or Election Impact — In this Particular Indictment” — makes clear that Rosenstein was speaking narrowly about that particular indictment, and not the possibility of indictments against Americans at some future point. Here’s how the lead sentence of the Feb. 16 CNBC article reads:
“When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein spoke to the press Friday, he repeatedly made it clear that his comments were specific to the federal grand jury indictment the special counsel’s office had just announced.”
Later, the CNBC article quotes a former assistant attorney general who further undermines Pirro’s point:
“The deputy attorney general’s comments were not an “all-clear” signal for the president, former assistant attorney general John Carlin told CNBC.
“What you saw at the press conference is not an ‘all-clear.’ Instead it’s a careful prosecutor sticking to the four corners of the indictment,” Carlin said on “Power Lunch.”
“Carlin, who previously was chief of staff to Mueller when he was director of the FBI, said that the investigation is not over and that Americans will “have to just wait and see.””
Under the regulations that govern special counsel investigations, Mueller’s probe will end with a “confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions” to the attorney general. There is no suggestion Mueller has submitted his final report yet, meaning the investigation is still active.
To date, the investigation has swept up four members of Trump’s campaign, including three who have agreed to work with with the special counsel as part of a plea deal.
As our timeline of the Mueller probe makes clear, the investigation has continued to evolve since February, when Pirro claims the collusion probe ended.
On July 13, the special counsel indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers for their role in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Clinton campaign, and the leaking of emails and documents.
The indictment made reference to an unnamed U.S. person who “was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump,” and who communicated during the election with Guccifer 2.0, a front for Russian operatives.
Former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone acknowledged he is “probably” the U.S. person referenced in the indictment. Stone’s acknowledgement came five months after Pirro claimed the collusion investigation had ended.
Pirro said Rosenstein announced in February that “the Russia collusion investigation is over.”
Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller investigation, said no such thing. He’s never suggested that an absence of charges against Americans in any given indictment means that Americans couldn’t be charged in the future.
Pirro’s claim that the investigation ended in February is also at odds with how the probe has evolved since then. To take just one example, former Trump campaign adviser Roger Stone acknowledged he is “probably” the unnamed U.S. person referenced in the July 13 indictment of 12 Russian intelligence officers charged with hacking and leaking Democratic documents during the election.
We rate this False.