This was no four-page summary; nor was it a lame attempt at a press conference from an attorney general who sold his oath of office to curry favor with his boss. This was 448 pages of damnable material that clearly makes the case that Donald Trump, while in office, obstructed justice; and were it not for the fact that he is a sitting president, he most likely would have been indicted and would now be facing criminal prosecution.
Let’s put aside, for the moment, all the people associated with Trump’s campaign that have either pleaded guilty to or been convicted of a crime. Suffice to say, next to this motley crew, the Nixon White House was comprised of singing nuns. Just reading the table of contents in Volume II should send chills down one’s spine. After going through the report, the only logical conclusion that a reasonably rational person can come to is that this man is unfit for the office for which he was elected. Consider the following:
1. Mueller’s hands were tied from the beginning. On page 2 of Volume II, he writes, “The Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has issued an opinion finding that ‘the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting president would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions’ in violation of ‘the constitutional separation of powers.'” In other words, per DOJ guidelines, Trump was never in legal jeopardy. He knew it and so did his attorneys.
2. Trump was not exonerated as both he and William Barr have been maintaining. Far from it. “The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, 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, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
3. Mueller examined ten instances where possible obstruction of justice took place, beginning with the firing of then FBI Director James Comey for not dropping the Michael Flynn investigation – a decision he later blamed then Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for making; to later admitting publicly in an interview with NBC’s Lester Holt that he fired Comey “because of the Russia thing”; to directing White House counsel Don McGahn to have Mueller fired; to instructing members of his communication staff to lie about the infamous Trump Tower meeting; to asking CIA Director Mike Pompeo and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to intervene on his behalf in the Russia investigation; to his attempts to have then Attorney General Jeff Sessions unrecuse himself, and when that failed, replace him with someone more loyal.
4. Trump clearly had corrupt intent with regard to his obstruction. Regarding the infamous White House meeting in which Trump asked Comey whether he could “see his way” to ending the Flynn investigation, Mueller writes, “The President’s decision to clear the room and, in particular, to exclude the Attorney General from the meeting signals that the President wanted to be alone with Comey.” Corrupt intent is the smoking gun with respect to obstruction and it proves conclusively that Trump knew that what he was doing was wrong.
5. Trump attempted to influence the testimony of both his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen. In the case of the former, by dangling the possibility of a pardon; in the case of the latter, by paying Cohen’s legal fees through the Trump Corporation and by reassuring him through his legal counsel that “he had his back.” But when Cohen decided to cooperate fully with the Southern District of New York, Trump turned on his former lawyer and threatened him with disclosures about his family. He also referred to him in a Tweet as a “rat.” In analyzing Trump’s conduct regarding Manafort, Mueller writes, “There is evidence that the President’s actions had the potential to influence Manafort’s decision whether to cooperate with the government.” Regarding Cohen, Mueller writes, “There is evidence that could support the inference that the President intended to discourage Cohen from cooperating with the government because Cohen’s information would shed adverse light on the President’s campaign-period conduct and statements.”
6. Contrary to what William Barr said in his press conference, there is evidence that the Trump campaign colluded – the legal term is conspired – with the Russians. In Volume I, Mueller writes that “the Trump campaign showed interest in WikiLeaks’s releases of hacked materials throughout the summer and fall of 2016.” The hacked materials in question were the emails from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, which painted an unfavorable picture of both Hillary Clinton and her campaign. And then there’s that meeting at Trump Tower in which Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner attended. The purpose of the meeting was to get information on Hillary Clinton that would help Trump, Sr. win the election. It matters not that the information proved to be useless. If you break into a bank and discover there’s no money in the vault, you’re still guilty of breaking into a bank. The fact that Mueller felt he could not prove conspiracy beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean a conspiracy did not exist.
7. Trump is not out of the woods legally. While he may not face the consequences of his actions while in office, he will undoubtedly face them in 2021, should he not win reelection. That’s because the protections his office affords him will not be there when he is a private citizen. And to be sure, Mueller has established in his report more than ample evidence that Trump broke the law and that he knew it. To put it another way, innocent men do not behave in the manner with which this president has behaved.
8. Now it’s up to Congress. Whether the Democratic-controlled House moves forward with an impeachment proceeding or not, it is imperative that every part of Trump’s administration and his financial empire be thoroughly investigated. Mueller has given Dems a clear and precise roadmap of where they should go. Trump went to great lengths to impede a legitimate counter-intelligence investigation. The question is why. It is up to the Committee chairs to see to it that we get the answers. I have maintained from day one that the thing Trump fears most is that the source of his income might be disclosed. On more than one occasion he or a member of his family has let slip that the bulk of their money comes from Russia. Should it be revealed that Russian oligarchs – and by extension Vladimir Putin – have leverage over him, it would be the end of his political career and, with it, his business empire. He will go to any lengths not to let that happen, even breaking the law.
In summation, Robert Mueller did a most thorough job of detailing for the American public the high crimes and misdemeanors of this president. We can lament that he could not, given DOJ guidelines, indict him. But let no one think for even a nanosecond that a failure to indict is synonymous with guiltlessness. What he has done, though, is given those entrusted with safeguarding this democracy the tools necessary to mete out the proper and just punishment.