Americans have not seen the full Mueller report. But we have seen more than enough. The warning I delivered at the 2016 Democratic National Convention — [President] Donald Trump is not fit for office — is now clearer than ever.
[Special Counsel] Robert Mueller opens the door for Congress to assert itself, noting that the legislative branch has authority to examine presidential conduct. Congress should make sure Mueller’s decision not to press conspiracy charges is not regarded as a legal precedent for future campaign practices. Foreign assistance in campaigns is expressly forbidden in the U.S. And new legislation is needed to protect American campaigns and voting systems against future attacks.
Some lawmakers will no doubt also consider whether to pursue impeachment. Given the Republican majority in the Senate, such an effort would have no realistic chance of success. It might even improve Trump’s political prospects.
In any case, impeachment at this point should not be necessary. The American people will soon have an opportunity to render the verdict they see fit — in the 2020 election.
Michael R. Bloomberg, Bloomberg Opinion
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Many commentators are ignoring the “first rule of holes”: When in one, stop digging. They can’t because, well, ratings. Three years of speculation up in smoke. Month after month of hysteria revealed as, well, hysteria. Attacks on the attorney general’s integrity are not just pebbles thrown at a battleship; they reveal a fundamental unwillingness in some portions of the media to accept Mueller’s — not [Attorney General William] Barr’s, Mueller’s — conclusion that no collusion occurred. That’s it. Game. Set. Match. In service of props from The Resistance, however, a bunch of commentators are digging deeper into the land of conspiracy theorists and tinfoil hats.
Watch now Democratic leaders, including candidates for president. They will not be lingering long near this giant, smoking wreck of many people’s credibility. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s dismissal of impeachment talk provided the day’s conclusive “tell.” The rejection essentially translated to “the Judiciary Committee can hold hearings, but we are done here.”
Except we are not done. The attorney general soon will have the report of the inspector general reviewing actions at the highest levels of the FBI and the intelligence community during the campaign and the transition. Just to name a few issues worth investigating: I do think former FBI Director James Comey should have told President Trump he was keeping a file on all of his conversations. I don’t think any of that file should have been leaked to the public. And there is nothing in the redacted Mueller report resembling a predicate for a FISA warrant against Carter Page, a U.S. citizen.
The results of the inspector general’s deep dig are yet to come — and they are truly the most interesting of all. The theater of the absurd of the past three years has reached an end for President Trump. It is the beginning of the end for those who set the counterintelligence investigation in motion.
Who is lawyering up now?
Hugh Hewitt, Washington Post
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The report illustrates three features of this presidency that have undermined Trump’s effectiveness.
The first is that this presidency is marinated in lies. Second, Trump regularly ignores good advice. Third, Trump is surrounded by people who feel free to disregard his words.
The report is an episodic portrait of the administration, and what it shows is a president who is untrustworthy, who has untrustworthy advisers and whose advisers do not respect him. Mueller has not destroyed Trump’s presidency, as Trump feared. But he has shone a light on what’s weakening it.
Ramesh Ponnuru, Bloomberg Opinion
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Trump has repeatedly crowed that Mueller’s report is a “total exoneration.” But the report itself, for those who bothered to read it, makes a mockery of that assertion, containing numerous examples of Trump degrading his office by engaging in sleazy and self-serving behavior.
It’s true that the special counsel didn’t establish that Trump’s campaign criminally cooperated with Russia in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign. But the report absolutely does not clear the president of the more serious accusation that he tried to obstruct justice through a variety of efforts to abort or interfere with the Russia investigation.
On the contrary, the report says: “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.” It goes on to say — despite Trump’s boasts to the contrary — that the report “does not exonerate him.”
The report makes it clear that most of Trump’s attempts at interference failed, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
Trump skated by, despite ample evidence of misbehavior, thanks to a favorable and generous reading of the facts and laws by his own attorney general. For the president to call that an “exoneration” is laughable.
Nor does such a finding prevent Congress from considering whether Trump’s actions amount to “high crimes and misdemeanors” justifying impeachment and removal from office. It seems unlikely, though, that impeachment will gain traction in the House, let alone that two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate would vote to remove Trump. And, in addition to being likely to fail, a battle over impeachment would be extraordinarily bitter and divisive for an already badly polarized country.
As we have said before, the best way to end the Trump presidency is for voters to turn out in large numbers to remove him in next year’s election.
Los Angeles Times editorial board
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From where I sit, everyone (with the exception of Robert Mueller himself) comes out looking worse than their loudest supporters claim but better than their shrillest detractors insist.
Any fair reading shows that the report is far from the “total and complete exoneration” Trump and his supporters claim. But it does exonerate Trump of many of the most extreme accusations bandied about on cable TV and in op-ed pages over the last two years.
Trump may have acted like he was guilty of something, but evidence for the thing he was supposed to be guilty of couldn’t be found. It’s not outlandish to think that some of his suspicious behavior stemmed from anger at being wrongly accused and ignorance about how to properly conduct himself.
As for the obstruction charges. Reasonable people can conclude that Trump wanted to, and almost certainly tried to, obstruct the probe. Some of his behavior would be illegal if he weren’t the president. But he is. And the legal arguments invoked by Barr and Mueller for letting him off the hook from criminal prosecution aren’t as absurd as many claim.
That brings us to the attorney general. Barr’s reputation took a hit when he opted to pre-spin the report’s findings in such a favorable light. But the claims that he’s disgraced himself don’t give enough consideration to the serious legal, constitutional and even political issues at play. Perhaps such spin was the embarrassing price he had to pay to get Trump to agree to the report’s release?
The claim that Barr is part of a coverup is unfair. What kind of “coverup” involves releasing the actual report with few redactions? Barr’s positions on the legal and constitutional issues were well-known when he was confirmed, and while controversial in this partisan climate, they’re hardly outside the mainstream.
Then there’s Congress. For the last two years, the congressional GOP has behaved as if we live in a parliamentary system, where the head of the party is also the head of government, and the legislators of the same party are obliged to follow the leader. But that’s not how our system works. Congress is the first branch of government and is supposed to have a more adversarial relationship with the executive branch, regardless of party.
The Democrats have been just as bad. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has lied, in classic McCarthyite fashion, about having damning evidence he has to keep in secret (as have some former Obama officials). Both parties have been happy to let Mueller do the job properly reserved for Congress.
And that brings us to Mueller. He resisted both the demonization of Team MAGA and the flattery of Team Resistance and simply did his job. It’s not his fault that so many in the media and Congress have been reluctant to do theirs.
Jonah Goldberg, Tribune News Service
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The striking thing is how self-wounding Mr. Trump’s behavior has been. Had he simply kept quiet, and let Mr. Mueller complete his investigation into his campaign’s links into Russia, the obstruction investigation never would have happened. Instead, he interfered clumsily on many occasions, allowing the special counsel to amass a damning record of the president’s truculence, dishonesty and contempt for federal investigators.
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The report does not make definitive conclusions in other aspects of its investigation. And yet, on the case of Russian interference, the report is clear: Russia intended to influence the election.
What did Moscow want from a Trump presidency? And did they get what they hoped for?
[Russian President Vladimir] Putin hoped Trump would revive the U.S.-Russia relationship. He was wrong. U.S. sanctions on Russia over its annexation of Crimea, clearly the biggest issue in that relationship, are not only still in place — they have been expanded.
And the Trump administration reversed an Obama-era decision to not provide lethal weapons to the conflict and began supplying anti-tank missiles to Ukraine.
Trump has also been a vocal critic of European nations that sought to get oil from Russia through the Nord Stream 2.
His administration is tough on Russia — perhaps tougher than any in the post-Cold War era.
Is there a bright side to a Trump presidency for Russia? Trump himself remains preternaturally inclined toward praising Putin and often undermines his administration’s own Russia policy. But the Mueller report helps explain why Trump’s rhetoric is so far from his actual policy. In the document, we see evidence of fumbles and failures, not necessarily of a grand conspiracy to collude with Russia. The campaign expected to benefit from information released by Russia, but, as Mueller notes, Russian offers of assistance often had trouble getting through.
The Kremlin’s intervention in American politics has provided no clear upside: Many Americans feel that the Trump candidacy has made their country weaker. Russians may feel the same too.
Adam Taylor, Washington Post
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In stopping Trump from firing Mueller in June, 2017, then-White House counsel Donald McGahn no doubt thought he was saving the president from himself, and — not incidentally — the White House counsel’s own reputation.
Standing firm to rescue Mueller’s job was the right thing to do, and an act of defiance that we see too rarely among those with whom Trump surrounds himself. But the fact that [then-White house counsel Don] McGahn had to do it could be the most damning evidence of all to be produced by the investigation — and the dogged investigator — that the president could not make go away.
Karen Tumulty, Washington Post
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It’s impeachment or bust. That’s the message sent by Mueller to critics of Trump. From a constitutional perspective, we should welcome it. Ever since Watergate, our political system has run a wayward experiment to use special counsels and criminal law to restrain presidential wrongdoing. Independent prosecutors diverted executive power outside constitutional controls and sapped the presidency of its energy. Frequently, [U.S. Supreme Court] Justice Antonin Scalia famously wrote, an effort to undermine the Constitution’s separation of powers “will come before the Court clad, so to speak, in sheep’s clothing.” But in a case upholding the independent counsel, he warned in dissent, “this wolf comes as a wolf.”
A special counsel such as Mueller may be a less constitutionally offensive creature, but it bears the same faults. The special-counsel system has relieved Congress of its responsibility to punish presidential misdeeds. The framers did not want legislators to hand off that duty. They understood that impeachment would place the ultimate constitutional responsibility in a body subject to political pressures and sensitive to other national concerns. Nevertheless, the Constitution makes Congress alone, not prosecutors, accountable for firing or keeping a president accused of abusing the office.
Mueller has recalled Congress to its constitutional duty; let us see if it is willing to answer.
John Yoo, Washington Post