“The chickensh** club” is a phrase coined by James Comey after he was US attorney for the Southern District of New York back in 2002. The title means he was head of an office of over 200 assistant US attorneys. Several months into his job, Comey, who would later head the FBI for four years before being dismissed by US President Donald Trump in 2017 in what some saw as an obstruction-of-justice move, called a staff meeting.
As reported by Jesse Eisinger in his book, The Chickensh** Club: Why the Justice Department Fails to Prosecute Executives, “Comey asked the seated prosecutors a question, ‘Who here has never had an acquittal or a hung jury. Please raise your hand.’ The go-getters and resume builders in the office were ready. This group thought themselves the best trial lawyers in the country. Hands shot up. Backs straightened in preparation for praise. Comey looked at his flock with approbation. ‘You are members of what we like to call the Chickensh** Club’.”
Prosecutors who had never lost a case were prosecutors who had never dared to take tough cases. White collar cases are the toughest to make and there are multiple reasons for this. They tend to take place in linguistic fogs. Instead of money taken at the point of a gun, it’s taken by promises and claims that can be made to appear as merely over-ambitious, misunderstandings of complex rules, just careless, or actually made by underlings.
Donald Trump has been playing those games his whole life in white-collar crime court cases he has faced, as did his father before him, as have his children, his foundation, his company, and his associates. Rich white collar defendants have lots of money for their defences. Money throws enough muck around the courtroom to befuddle jurors and bedazzle judges so much that they throw their hands up inconclusively.
If a wealthy white-collar person is convicted, expect their attorneys to appeal. In recent decades the Supreme Court has reversed very solid white collar convictions and federal appeals courts have followed that lead. These have given very clear signals to prosecutors.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller sent out clear – though silent – signals before the release of the report that he had joined the chickensh** club. He didn’t indict Donald Trump, Jr and Jared Kushner for possible offences they may have committed, like lying to Congress and failing to disclose foreign contacts, and then interview them, if they were to be charged. That would have set up an interview with the president himself.
According to Attorney General Robert Barr’s letter, the report takes the most chickensh** position possible. “The Special Counsel […] did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other […] Instead […] the report sets out evidence on both sides [… while it] does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr himself and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, are much more definitive. They have concluded that the evidence “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
It is absolutely and irrefutably clear that the media and the Democrats wagered far too much on the Mueller report.
The big, and well-known facts, remain. The Russians worked very hard to get Trump elected. Trump publicly called on them for help and instantly received it. He has not only praised Russian President Vladimir Putin – he told us all, on television, that he trusted him more than US intelligence services – but has also taken political positions that strengthen Russia and weaken America in international affairs.
Barr’s summary – and possibly the report itself saying: “The Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government …” seems to conclusively end the issue of “collusion”, and allows the other issues to be swept out the door along with it.
This will, without doubt, empower the president and his supporters. He is the Teflon Don made huge. Untouchable. Invulnerable. A winner.
It will arouse – even outrage – many of his opponents, including the heads of key House of Representatives committees, like Jerry Nadler (judiciary committee), Adam Schiff (intelligence committee), and Elijah J Cummings (oversight committee). It will entice district attorneys, state attorney generals, and even other federal prosecutors to go for the glory of getting Trump when the great Mueller failed.
Remember that Presidents Andrew Jackson, Howard Taft, and William McKinley, presidential candidates Thomas Dewey and John Kerry and Mayor Rudolph Giuliani all gained notice as prosecutors or district attorneys, as did a multitude of congressmen, senators, and supreme court justices.
Trump will be more adamant, more intransigent, more arrogant, and even more blatantly untruthful.
Democrats will push harder and harder. At the same time, they will likely focus their presidential primaries on finding who can beat Trump.
Trump and his allies will ignore subpoenas and other norms and treat Congress with contempt.
It is hard to imagine a conclusion or a breaking point in the conflict, except one that is caused by external events – perhaps a war or a stock market crash.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.