The Mueller Report on Trump Campaign activity and Russian Interference was released to the public and to Congress on Thursday and many are asking, “Now what?”
In just a few hours, lawmakers and Trump campaign officials took positions on their view of the implications of the nearly 500 page document. Reading it in its entirety can seem daunting and many publications have turned to audio versions for easier digestion. As the news evolves about the facts, keeping up with who says what and what’s going to happen is laborious, and maybe pointless. The findings in the Mueller Report and the political implications won’t be fully known for years to come and the analysis and media about it will go on for decades.
The President claims exoneration. The Attorney General (the same one who helped pardon Iran-Contra traitors in Reagan years) claims the President’s frustration and anger justify obstruction. Democrats are calling for impeachment, or not, depending on how many Republicans live in their district. News pundits call it the end of his Presidency, forgetting just last week they had just told us we had to move on after AG Barr’s cover letter. If Russia’s goal was simply to cause chaos (and it is) then they have been wildly successful.
The findings of the Mueller Report in their most boiled down form are:
- Mueller was investigating “Conspiracy,” not “Collusion,” which lacks a legal definition.
- Trump’s campaign did not directly coordinate with Russian election interference efforts.
- Trump continued personal business dealings in Russia until early 2017.
- Trump campaign officials did provide Russians with polling data.
- Trump campaign officials did try to establish contacts with Vladimir Putin.
- Russians tried to hack Clinton’s office hours after Trump called for Russia’s aid on tv.
- Trump campaign officials and Trump Jr met with Russians for dirt on Hillary Clinton.
- Trump tried to end the Special Counsel Investigation.
Ten examples of potential Obstructions of Justice including directing officials to lie to investigators, firing the FBI Director, floating Pardons for silence and a changed behavior towards personal lawyer Michael Cohen as he cooperated with investigators.
Mueller includes, as is required, a section on Prosecution and Declination (of prosecution) decisions. In this section he explains that on the topic of Obstruction of Justice, they cannot make a conclusive legal decision on whether to charge the President. He explains, “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.” In another section: “efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders ot accede to his requests.”
The Mueller Report leaves those that have been paying attention to the public theater surrounding the investigation wanting. Even a social media bystander has seen the public twitter rants and media interviews where the President admits to “fighting back” against the investigation or outright firing people to put it to an end. Over the past two years the investigation has facilitated 34 convictions for crimes ranging from identity theft and lying to investigators to bank fraud, money laundering and acting as an agent for a foreign government, including Russia and Turkey. The investigation makes one thing clear: President Trump surrounds himself with criminals and directs them to commit crimes on his behalf. The Mueller Report was supposed to be conclusive. Instead, Mueller punts to Congress explaining “Congress has the authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”
Now what? Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Presidential candidate, Senator Liz Warren, call for the House to begin the impeachment process while continuing House and Senate investigations. Republicans like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins express their discomfort while others repeat the motto of “No Collusion.” Here is what we can expect next.
Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee on May 2nd and House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler is in talks to have Special Counsel Robert Meuller testify before May 23rd. Nadler has also subpoenaed the full, unredacted version of the Mueller Report from the Department of Justice. House Democrats including Speaker Nancy Pelosi have a meeting scheduled Monday to discuss how to move forward. While waiting (and actively participating) we can expect House impeachment efforts will grow but impeachment is likely not happening this month or next, if ever. Republicans will find ways to claim this all really sheds Democrats in a bad light. Pundits will continue to debate what’s true and what’s not. The President will tweet. The slow walk towards the ‘end’ of this phenomenon will continue. In other words: more of the same. For those that thought the Mueller Report would be the deciding factor on the legitimacy of Donald Trump’s Presidency, the report is far from satisfying.
In today’s rapid fire news cycle it’s helpful to look to our history to get a better idea of what things might look like down the road. One important analogy to make to the Trump/Russia investigation is to the Nixon/Watergate investigation. Both are stories of crimes committed to benefit a Presidential campaign, without the tacit involvement of the candidate, and the coverup of that crime by the President. Both involve Special Counsel investigations and firing of officials overseeing parts of the investigation. Both involve obstruction of justice and both investigations declined to prosecute the President directly. It’s important to remember that it wasn’t until Congress stepped up and demanded the President’s resignation with the backing of a real threat of impeachment that the full truth came out and the country was able to move forward. While the Mueller Report doesn’t give us a clear judgement on what must happen legally, it does give Congress and the country a road map on how to move forward. What happens next depends on Congress and the public’s ability to pressure them to fulfill their Constitutional responsibilities and protect the rule of law in America.