We’ve learned six key things from the Mueller Report.
First, and most important, Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election was enormous—more sophisticated, more widespread, more manipulative and more threatening to our democracy than we ever imagined. Also, such Russian mischief has been on-going for years. The Russians interfered in the 2016 election to sow discord in America, and, clearly, in an effort to help Donald Trump become President. There is no evidence, however, that President Trump had any knowledge of Russian tampering other than what was being reported in the press.
(2). There was NO evidence of President Trump or the Trump campaign conspiring or scheming with the Russians. There was no actual basis for the investigation into whether Trump or his campaign colluded with the Russians, other than a terribly flawed opposition research report funded by the Clinton campaign, which was used by the FBI to secure a warrant to tap the phone of a private citizen who was connected (at the time) to the Trump campaign. Americans should recoil at the ease with which our government used the FISA court (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) to spy on an American citizen. Yes, “spy” is the correct verb.
(3). President Trump is a foolish man, vindictive and ill tempered, who defines “truth” as that which is in his best interest, and who, as President Nixon before him, has attempted to manage news, and quite possibly an investigation, about an underlining allegation that (in the case of Trump) had no basis in fact.
(4). The enormity and scope of the investigation into allegations of collusion and conspiracy, given the remarkable paucity of evidence of any such collusion or conspiracy has been a seismic event in the history of American politics. How that came about will, no doubt, wind up becoming the focus of news coverage and investigations yet to come.
(5). The Mueller Report is fraught with political danger for both Republicans and Democrats. The Democrats seem to be on the cusp of over-reaching and inciting a voter backlash by making the Mueller Report, and the impeachment hearings they seem eager to conduct, the cornerstone of their agenda between now and the 2020 election. That, we suspect, will be a major tactical mistake. The American body politic will say “enough” long before most Democratic congressmen and congresswomen will be willing to let go.
(6). President Trump may well have meandered into the thicket of Obstruction of Justice. It seems, to us, to be a close call. It also seemed to Special Counsel Mueller to be a close call, which he has left to Congress to sort out. Attorney General Barr does not believe Trump is guilty of obstruction. His opinion is not without merit. There is ample room for prosecutorial discretion. Former FBI Director James Comey taught us all about prosecutorial discretion when discussing Candidate Hillary Clinton’s extreme negligence in the use of her private server and the destruction of tens of thousands of her emails which were government property.
Republicans, it seems, will be content to rally around a President who is reigning over a robust economy, a soaring stock market and who has chalked up some positive accomplishments. His fits of temper, his demagoguery, his habitual willingness to lie with a straight face, his utter public trashing of colleagues who disappoint him, and his attacks on institutions that are basic to our democracy don’t seem to faze the Republican rank-and-file or leadership. Worse, few, so far, have expressed an iota of concern about the President’s now-documented scheming that clearly has skated very close to obstruction of justice.
History, we suspect, will not look kindly at how politicians comported themselves during this sad chapter in American life. Many Democrats rushed to judgment demanding investigations to demonstrate the correctness of their foregone, erroneous, conclusions. Representative Jerold Nadler (D-NY), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has made repeated pronouncements of strong evidence of Trumps collusion with the Russians, and has issued subpoenas to prove his previously announced conclusions. Yesterday, standing in front of a “meet-and-greet” prop board emblazoned with countless “Congressman Jerold Nadler” swatches, he held a press conference to announce his plans to investigate.
Fellow Congressman Rep. Adam Schiff, (D-Cal.) Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has also pretty much dismissed the findings of the Mueller investigation, insisting that there is ample evidence of wrongdoing (maybe not illegal, but wrong nonetheless). Actually, he is right in one sense. The Mueller Report, while finding no evidence of collusion or conspiracy certainly does not describe Trump as a paragon of virtue, and it leaves open, for the Congress to sort out, the question of obstruction. The report makes clear that while it could come to no conclusion on the question of obstruction, it couldn’t exonerate the President either. We’re not criticizing Congressmen Nadler and Schiff for investigating whether the President was guilty of obstruction. They are actually obligated to do that. Announcing their conclusions prior to conducting their inquiry is, however, tiresome and counterproductive. It won’t hurt Nadler or Schiff in their home districts, but it may very well hurt the party in 2020.
Meanwhile, over on the Senate side, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has demanded that the House begin impeachment proceedings. Ironically, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, of all people, has emerged as the rational centrist in all of the political posturing.
What is, perhaps, most sad about all of this is that the Mueller Report reveals an oval office that has become a depressing place. It has become a place, we fear, that few promising young men and women would aspire to occupy.