Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report is in and a redacted version is available to the public. After reading the report, I think it made things harder, specifically as far as what happens next. To some extent, I was hopeful, as were most Americans, that the conclusion of the report would end this ugly chapter in our modern politics, that it would answer all the important questions and provide a way forward. The report was incredibly professional, comprehensive, and fair. It provided Congress, the American people, the media, and even the Trump Administration with a sound, complete factual predicate detailing what occurred during the 2016 Presidential Election and actions by the administration concerning the investigation itself. Now we must decide what to do with it.
The investigation in no way whatsoever was an exoneration or vindication for President Trump, the Trump Campaign, or the Trump Administration. In fact, just the opposite. The 448-page report is wholly condemning, containing numerous founded examples of contemptuous conduct by Trump and his associates during the campaign and throughout the investigation. The fact that the Mueller team did not elect to seek indictment of the President does not change the fact that his conduct was not only abhorrent but could still be criminal in nature and subject to other appropriate sanction. Mueller began his report with a clear statement that he was bound by the Department of Justice (DOJ) policy against indicting a sitting president and that policy drove the charging decisions.
The most important aspect of the report was the critical issue of Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election and ongoing efforts to destabilize our democracy, regardless of whether the Trump campaign was complicit. This entire process was necessitated by Trump refusing to acknowledge the Russian interference despite overwhelming evidence of their activity and his unconscionable, inexplicable refusal to allow the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to work with the states the improve our election security. Trump did not have to concede that Russian efforts led directly to his election, he simply had to acknowledge they attempted to interfere and then do his solemn duty to safeguard our systems.
These counter intelligence issues were the most critical aspect of the investigation. The report carefully detailed a significant, deliberate, ingoing campaign by Putin and Russia to interfere with our elections and undermine confidence in our democracy. They are doing the same thing in other western democracies and must be stopped at all costs. Whatever comes from this process, the Trump Administration is obligated to begin the crucial effort to improve election security at an incredible pace to make up for time lost by the President’s intransigence. The 2020 Election is already beginning, and we know it is under serious threat of Russian interference. Is this how the Trump Campaign plans to win reelection, by allowing similar Russian assistance?
The investigation did not find sufficient evidence to support criminal charges of an actual conspiracy or official cooperation between Russia and the campaign. However, the investigation confirmed that the Russian efforts were intended to benefit Trump because Russia believed they would benefit from a Trump Presidency and the investigation confirmed that the Trump Campaign knew it would benefit electorally from the Russian efforts. Thus, despite the lack of sufficient evidence of a formal partnership, there was most definitely a mutual understanding and actions in concert thereto. The campaign took no steps to stop the Russians nor did they notify the FBI. Instead, there were abundant examples of reprehensible actions by members of the Trump Campaign in furtherance of this effort.
The Russians made numerous, aggressive overtures to the campaign to promote a partnership and coordinate activities, but the campaign smartly resisted a formal arrangement or meetings between Trump and Putin during the campaign. Paul Manafort, as campaign chair, met with Russians and shared campaign information, including the status and importance of the battleground states upon which the campaign hinged. The Russians intensified their interference in those states. Erik Prince, representing Trump, met with Russians in a secret meeting in The Seychelles during which they discussed reconciliation efforts between Russia and the U.S. during a Trump Presidency. There was also the infamous Trump Tower meeting between the Russians and the campaign wherein the Russians promised the campaign dirt on Hillary Clinton. This action violated campaign finance laws and exposed Donald Trump, Jr. to possible charges. There was also ongoing collaboration between WikiLeaks and the campaign. The only reason that was not charged was the lack of proof that the campaign knew WikiLeaks role in the hacking. These are but a few of the examples. Trump’s repeated claims of no collusion were entirely disingenuous.
The report listed 14 examples of obstruction of justice by President Trump during the investigation. From reading the report, it is clear Mueller would have brought charges but for the DOJ policy against indicting a sitting President. Most of Trump’s actions were done openly and notoriously and most of his staff refused to comply, but his intent was nonetheless apparent. He pushed his staff to provide false testimony to Congress and to the investigation. He publicly attacked and threatened witnesses to dissuade them from cooperating.
Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to meet secretly with Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein and compel him to fire Mueller. McGahn resisted several Trump directives and ultimately resigned. He directed Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign chair who was never a member of the administration, to meet secretly with then AG Jeff Sessions and compel Sessions to announce he was unrecusing himself for the purpose of informing the public that Trump was being unfairly accused and investigated, that he had not had any connection with the Russians, and to discredit the investigation. He was to direct Sessions to limit Mueller’s investigation to only future election interference, thus covering up Russian efforts in 2016. Trump attempted to coerce his Intelligence Community, specifically Dan Coats and Gina Haspel, to make public statements falsely asserting that Trump had no Russia connections, there was no collusion, and no Russian interference. Of course, they had the integrity to refuse his directive.
Trump fired K.T. McFarland as Deputy National Security Advisor, but later offered her to be ambassador to Singapore if she would write and issue a false statement claiming Trump never requested Mike Flynn to speak to the Russians on his behalf. Trump also directed his staff to destroy emails and documents rather than turn them over to investigators. Press Secretary Sarah Sanders admitted to investigators that she made false statements to the media about speaking to numerous FBI agents who were happy that Trump fired James Comey. She never exchanged emails and phone calls with FBI agents as she had falsely claimed from the podium. Trump himself made far too numerous false statements concerning the Mueller investigation attempting to discredit it, unfairly attack the agents, cover up his actions, and lie to the American people. Among was those was his repeatedly false claim that he wanted to be interviewed by Mueller when he never intended to do so and in fact refused to do so throughout the investigation. He clearly had much to hide. Trump’s campaign to deceive the American people, cover up his impropriety, and falsely attack the Mueller investigation clearly supported charges of obstruction of justice.
The Mueller team adhered strictly to the narrow scope of the investigation that was tasked to them. Consequently, he referred 14 related cases to other U.S. Attorney’s offices in New York, Virginia, and Washington, DC, because they fell outside of his purview. One of the major questions not addressed by the Mueller Investigation was Trump’s connections to Russia. We know with great fidelity that the Russians interfered in the election and did so to help Trump win. We needed to learn why Russia believed so strongly that they would benefit from Trump in the White House. During the campaign and while in office, Trump has completely reversed decades of U.S. policy. He has blindly supported Russia and attacked NATO.
His actions have worked to the benefit of Russia and against our own national security interests. Remember the Helsinki Trump-Putin meeting wherein Trump had an unprecedented secret meeting with Putin which he has not disclosed to a single person, including his own advisors, and for which the interpreter had to destroy all notes. The country not only deserved to know but must determine how Putin has compromised Trump to such a great extent. This may prove far more significant than the campaign collusion or obstruction of justice. Mueller did not investigate Trump’s highly questionable financial ties to Russia, but hopefully one of the other investigations will discover the truth about the extent and nature of Trump’s debt and business dealings with Russian oligarchs and organized crime.
The big question of the moment is what Congress will do armed with the Mueller Report. House Democrats have already begun to fulfill Congress’ long overdue responsibility of oversight and accountability. Those efforts must continue. Will the House begin impeachment proceedings? If the House impeaches Trump, will the Senate even commence its own proceeding, or will McConnell refuse to do so and continue a complete cover up for the President. House Democrats have an extremely difficult decision. Will the American people support what would be a lengthy and divisive impeachment process or would they react negatively towards Democrats in the 2020 election? Republicans suffered losses after they impeached but did not remove President Clinton. There is a strong lesson here for Democrats. However, Trump’s transgressions are far more serious than Clinton’s lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
There is a strong argument that Democrats should focus their efforts on 2020 and hold off on impeachment, especially without clear consensus. They should primarily focus on legislating the issues for which the American people elected them and then conduct their oversight duties. In the election, use this evidence against Trump in addition to his policy failures. He failed on health care, taxes, the environment, etc. He went to great lengths to escape accountability for his reprehensible campaign activities and attempts to cover them up. Trump is unfit to serve as President and must cease his policies against our national interests. He certainly deserves the stigma of impeachment and removal from office. However, the stronger message is for Democrats to nominate a strong, viable candidate and knock Trump/Pence from office with a definitive statement by the electorate. Let the people decide with their votes.