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It’s Now Up To Congress

The Mueller Report Is No Whitewash of the Trump Presidency; It’s a Laundry List of Outrageous Actions

We now know that Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III wrestled with keeping to narrow, legal definitions and whatever ambiguities existed about specific, provable intent in deciding that there was insufficient evidence to support criminal charges in conspiring with Russian operatives and to pin obstruction of justice charges.

But we also know – despite redactions in multiple colors – that Trump and friends committed a wide variety of bad behaviors, terrible enough that they do little to “exonerate” Trump nor erase the question of whether Trump should be president.

As one of the many pundits offering cable TV commentary, the Mueller Report detailed behavior that may be barely lawful, but certainly awful.

That Trump is publicly crowing and boasting about No Collusion, No Obstruction is simply absurd. He should be humbled and seeking forgiveness.

That Trump is publicly crowing and boasting about No Collusion, No Obstruction is simply absurd. He should be humbled and seeking forgiveness – but that’s not his way.

The president escaped criminal charges by a knife’s edge, not by a big margin. He was saved by the Justice Department tradition of withholding charges from a sitting president.

Let’s leave the detailed review of the now-released Mueller report to those with the resources to take it apart, issue by issue, but we have some basic takeaways:

  • The report confirms that there was a Russian campaign to interfere in the 2016 election and that Russia wanted to help the Trump campaign, and the Trump campaign was willing to take it.
  • The report details 10 instances of attempted obstruction – the legal definition apparently does not require successful obstruction – in which Trump was saved by his own White House staff who refused to carry out various Trump assignments, including firing Mueller.

In neither instance, has this White House done anything to keep the basic problems from re-appearing in 2020 or in other Trump actions.

There are any number of outrageous moments in the report and tons more questions, including why Mueller did not insist on an actual formal interview with the president.

But we can all agree that the report creates a far less-flattering picture for Trump than the president himself or that Attorney General William P. Barr offers.

Indeed, to me, beyond the results or the report themselves, it is Barr’s handling of the results of the 22-month investigation that has me sick to my stomach. Frankly, it should disgust all, regardless of political orientation.

American values start with Fairness. We teach our children to accept the rules of whatever game is being played, to stay within the foul lines.

What Barr did by calling a press conference again to attempt to shape how to read the then-pending report as a total pass for the president, the absence of any conspiratorial coordination between the Trump campaign and associates and Russians, to give the White House and Trump’s personal lawyers days of advance notice about the contents of the redacted report, each and all cross a line of propriety. In effect, they reflect a different kind of obstruction all by themselves.

Mueller addressed the sitting president exemption and appeared to contradict Barr’s finding that there was no obstruction to prosecute. Mueller said that no one in Justice could decide that there were charges, appearing to leave the question a political one for Congress.

Complete with Barr’s insistence to look into the origins of the investigation itself – a Trump goal – we are seeing the full emergence of Barr as a shield for Trump is a declaration that the law doesn’t matter, rather it is just another public relations platform for the president’s team to offer palliative adulations for the party leader.

What we have accomplished in a two-year investigation of Russian interference into American elections and political life is a total undercutting of American justice, a knee-capping of the U.S. intelligence community, a broad attack on the credibility of the FBI. What more could those original Russian planners have hoped for?

Where does all of this leave us? What can we expect next:

  • Endless spin, particularly from the White House, who want the whole matter to go away. But from Democrats, too, who want to keep alive any ideas of these misadventures in Trumpworld.
  • A subpoena from the House Judiciary Committee and possibly other congressional panels for the whole, unredacted report. This will kick off a new, multi-round series of denials, appeals, court filings that will take months to sort out.
  • A fiery public hearing with Barr in the first week of May, when he appears before committees to answer questions about the handling of the Mueller report, and the degree to which Barr stepped beyond the Mueller findings. Without much imagination at work, we can predict that Mueller himself will be called before one committee or another to testify about what he turned in to Barr.
  • More legal challenges to Trump’s various business, ethical and political actions before and during his presidency. The Southern District of New York Justice Department, the equivalent in Eastern Virginia and the New York State Attorney General’s office all have live investigations to pursue.

Trump, of course, cares in the end only about Trump, not about protecting the country, not about a working government, not about healing a public divide so deep as to threaten this country’s future.

The contacts between the Justice Department and the White House have raised concerns about whether Barr is acting based on his allegiance to the president or his legal assessment of the information in Robert Mueller’s report. Perhaps it is time for Barr to resign.

As former Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman argues, Barr’s blatant partisanship disqualifies him from continuing as the chief law enforcement officer of the United States. Neither Congress nor the public will trust that he has been objective and fair in what he has decided to make public of the report, nor will they believe that he can handle any further issues surrounding wrongdoing by Trump with integrity.

April 18, 2019