The investigative report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which was released in redacted form late last week, paints a disturbing portrait of a president who clearly does not appreciate the weighty responsibilities of his high office.
The White House is not a prize that goes to the top gladiator, to be used as a plaything. It’s not a new acquisition by the Trump Organization, as the current occupant of the Oval Office seems to believe. The presidency is a solemn trust, one that President Trump has belittled and demeaned by his own actions— laid out in page after page in the Mueller report.
In its 448 pages, Robert Mueller lays out convincing evidence that the Trump campaign—while it may not have actively conspired with the Russian government— eagerly accepted help from individuals or organizations aligned with Russia to win the White House. Then, as president, Donald Trump actively sought to obstruct the inquiry into his campaign’s actions.
Some of the most damning testimony against the president comes from his own people, particularly White House legal counsel Don McGahn.
While the president certainly has the authority to oversee the administration of justice, which includes hiring and firing top law enforcement officials, Mueller properly concludes that the president’s authority does not extend to actions taken to thwart or otherwise impede investigations into the presidency itself.
It’s a matter of corrupt intent, and Mueller lays out more than enough evidence of that to win a conviction in most any court of law. As Mueller concluded, President Trump repeatedly tried to influence witnesses, either through threats or suggested inducements, such as pardons. He fired FBI director James Comey and directed his former campaign director, Corey Lewandowski, to order then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to rescind his recusal on the Russia investigation and to limit the scope of the ongoing probe to future election interference, foreclosing an examination of the Trump campaigns actions in 2016. And most damaging of all, Trump directed Mr. McGahn to order the firing of Mueller himself, an order that prompted McGahn to prepare his own resignation rather than carry out an act he believed to be illegal.
In the case of the firing of Comey and attempted firing of Mueller, when news of the president’s actions leaked to the press, the president directed his own people to lie to coverup his corrupt actions. He even directed McGahn to create a false, post-dated letter intended to undercut a New York Times story on the president’s demand for Mueller’s removal, another order that McGahn refused.
While the language of the special counsel statute required Mueller to issue his report to the Justice Department, it’s clear that Mr. Mueller intended his report primarily for Congress, which is the one tribunal with the clear, constitutional authority to take action to address the president’s actions.
Whether that involves impeachment remains to be seen. Some Democratic leaders, fearing potential blowback, have already taken impeachment off the table. That’s a mistake, because the final word on this investigation has yet to be written. As in Watergate, congressional committees spent months investigating the Nixon White House even as an independent counsel undertook his own investigation.
To date, Congress has largely shirked its role, as majority Republicans sought to squelch an honest inquiry during the first two years of the administration.
Some ask: What’s the point of further inquiry, or possible impeachment, given that the Republican-led Senate would never vote to convict the president? Yet further inquiry could reveal new information publicly, including some that could cause even Republican senators to change their minds. During Watergate, it was the congressional investigation, not the independent counsel’s office, that first revealed the existence of a White House taping system— the revelation that ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.
If nothing else, Congress has a responsibility under the U.S. Constitution to do its job, which includes an oath to uphold the Constitution. Mr. Mueller needs to testify. So should former White House counsel Don McGahn. Attorney General Barr needs to explain to Congress and the American people the discrepancies between his own assessment of Mueller’s findings and the actual report.
There is good reason to believe that the Mueller report isn’t the comprehensive assessment many Americans had expected. With nearly a dozen other criminal investigations that appear to have spun off from Mueller’s inquiry, it may only be the tip of the iceberg. Which means much work remains for Congress’s investigatory committees to do. It’s time they get started.