Mueller shows Congress why it must act on Trump | Editorial

Posted Apr 19, 2019

On what was termed the “best day” of the Trump presidency by a hyperbolic Kellyanne Conway, it was officially established that the president’s campaign staff had “multiple links” with a foreign adversary and encouraged its “sweeping and systematic” interference in the 2016 election.

It was also determined by Special Counsel Robert Mueller that the Trump campaign planned broad media strategies based on material stolen by Russia and published by WikiLeaks, and that it “expected it would benefit electorally” from this relationship.

It was revealed that there were 10 examples of obstructive behavior by the president designed to torpedo investigations about Russia, “multiple acts” of “undue influence” that were not indictable because of Department of Justice rules that protect the president from prosecution.

And it was determined that many of those efforts were blunted by people like former White House chief counsel Don McGahn, who in one case refused to comply with Donald Trump’s “crazy s---” and threatened to quit.

If this was the best day of the Trump presidency, it is time to start pondering what the worst might be like.

Robert Mueller essentially told a crime tale, a 448-page thriller about a grisly assault on the American democracy that makes your nerves jump and skin itch, but he found no evidence that Trump or his best people helped the Russians interfere in our election, which would be the most lurid development of all.

Still, he found copious evidence that Trump obstructed justice and abused power – both were articles of impeachment for Richard Nixon — and he left it to Congress to discern whether it rises to the level of high crimes or misdemeanors.

His report vividly describes a president who thinks he is above the law, and as stated on Page 370, Trump “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved; sought to remove the Special Counsel; sought to have Attorney General Sessions un-recuse himself and limit the investigation; sought to prevent disclosure of information about the (2016) meeting between Russians and campaign officials; used public forums to attack potential witnesses, and praised witnesses who declined to cooperate with the government.”

Mueller concluded, “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. We are unable to reach that judgment.”

Most of the details in the report were already known, largely because a half-dozen of Trump’s closest associates have already been convicted, with Mueller indicting dozens more. But its official rollout marks the moment when foreign interference in American elections became normalized, at least by a buoyant president who has maintained silence about the Kremlin’s dark political arts. That in itself is chilling.

But Mueller suggests that the obstruction allegations should inform Congressional action going forward. “The conclusion that Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the president's corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law,” he wrote.

That is a gilded invitation to expand the two existing House committee investigations to examine obstruction, if only to determine whether the next step is impeachment, the main mechanism we have to determine whether a president is fit to serve. It is a tough political step to take, but it cannot be ruled out: The only alternative is for Congress to forfeit its oversight responsibility, which is no option at all.

Congress also needs to view an unredacted version of the report, as William Barr had promised. It still needs to hear Mueller testify, and learn more about the 14 secret criminal investigations he referred to other offices. It must codify protection of future investigators, who must never be subjected to the stonewalling Mueller faced.

And Congress must protect election systems from hackers and prevent our enemies from using cyber intrusion and information warfare.

That was part of Mueller’s original mandate. We have yet to hear the president call election security a priority, which is no surprise, because his electoral success has been aided by foreign subterfuge. Only in a dystopian fiction version of American government should he be allowed to get away with it.

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