The Bottom Line

Will President Donald Trump read the Mueller report? Of course, he famously does not read. Maybe someone verbally will summarize it for him. Someone other than the attorney general. If someone does, here is the key sentence in the report of special counsel Robert Mueller: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.” (Volume II, page 2.)

In other words, President Trump obstructed justice. But, and this is the key to how to interpret the above sentence, the special prosecutor and his team “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.” (Volume II, page 1.) They reached that conclusion based on the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, which holds that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted. Though the president cannot be indicted, he or she still can be the subject of a criminal investigation. But, because the president cannot be indicted, it would be unfair, the Mueller team concluded, “to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.” Why? Because “the ordinary means for an individual to respond to an accusation is through a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case.” (Volume II, page2.)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller

Mueller’s office found itself in a four-part, catch-22 situation. First, the Mueller team could not indict or prosecute a sitting president. Second, the team could make the president the focus of a criminal investigation. Third, the team decided not to conduct that criminal investigation in a manner that might result in a conclusion the president committed a crime. To do so would be unfair to the president because he could not clear his name in court (because he could not be indicted). Fourth, if he were innocent, the team “would so state.”

Ergo, the president of the United States is guilty of obstruction. Congress: It is now up to you to do your job and start impeachment proceedings. Only Congress can do what the legal system cannot: Reach a determination on the guilt of President Donald Trump.

Mueller laid out a roadmap for Congress to pursue impeachment proceedings. The entire second volume of the report, roughly 200 pages long, details all the evidence of Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, including such well-known episodes as Trump discussing former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russians with then FBI Director James Comey, Trump’s firing of Comey, the president’s attempts to curtail the special counsel’s investigation, Trump’s lies about the infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting among his son, son-in-law, aides, and Russians, Trump’s attempt to force then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal, and on and on. It is all there, much of it already known, but in a form Congress easily could follow.

Trump knows what he has done, which is why the special counsel’s report quotes (on page 78 of Volume II) the president saying when Sessions told Trump of Mueller’s appointment, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”  In true Trumpian fashion, the toddler-in-chief did not blame himself for his dilemma. Instead, he “became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation, stating ‘How could you let this happen, Jeff?’” 

2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton

The section on “collusion” does not make for much better reading for Trump and his allies. The report details the ways in which Russia interfered “in sweeping and systematic fashion” in the 2016 presidential election through “a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” (Volume I, page 1.) The special counsel did not attempt to determine if there had been collusion between Trump and his campaign and Russia because “collusion” is not a crime under United States law. Robert Mueller focused on “conspiracy,” which is a crime. Conspiracy requires a coordination between two entities in which both parties — in this case the Trump campaign and the Russian government — take actions “that were informed by or responsible to the other’s actions or interests.” Using that definition, “The investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Volume I, page 2.)

But, there sure were a lot of contacts between the two, far more than can be detailed here. Just one point should suffice: The Mueller report found a number of campaign officials and “surrogates” promoted content from a Russian-controlled Twitter account. Among those named were Trump’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.  

White House adviser Kellyanne Conway

Conway’s name appearing in the report makes all the more befuddling her attempt to spin its conclusions. Referring to the day of the report’s release as “the best day” for Trump since his election, Conway said, “I called this a political proctology exam” in which the president received a “clean bill of health.” She added, “We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.”

Trump was just as delusional as his adviser. “I’m having a good day, too,” he said. “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.” If this is a good day, I would hate to be around Trump or Conway when they are having a bad day.

Much of what the report contains was known before its release. But, it is jarring to read the conclusions detailed in one place in concise chronological order. And, whether these are new revelations or a rehash of ones already known, none of it is acceptable. The bottom line on obstruction: The president is guilty. As for “collusion,” the Russians clearly did interfere in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump team welcomed such contacts, and both sides benefitted. 

There may be no crime in that, but it was wrong, and Congress must now do its job.

Posted April 19, 2019

Comments are closed.