Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report to the Department of Justice is a damning account of President Trump and his 2016 presidential campaign. Many of the people cited in the report are in jail or on their way. It paints a terrifying picture of Russian interference. It spares few, yet Trump came out looking worse than all the rest.
“The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systemic fashion,” the report concluded. The investigation identified two ways the Russians did this: social media disparagement of Hillary Clinton and hacking of Clinton and DNC officials. Both were successful, which alone is a frightening affront to our Republic.
The report went further, “[t]he investigation also identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.” Mueller confirmed what news reporting suggested for years: The Trump campaign knew of Russia’s efforts, and in certain instances even welcomed them. The report makes it shockingly clear that there was a convergence of interests between the two.
Acquiescing to a foreign adversary interfering in a presidential election offends every democratic principle most Americans hold dear. It’s reckless and deceitful, and it renders our belief in free and fair elections meaningless.
But fair isn’t the way Trump likes to play it. The important things in Trump’s orbit — from golf to business to politics — appear to always be a zero sum game. Someone wins, someone loses; the rules exist to be bent, if not broken altogether. Trump’s dodgy business dealings are well documented, so let’s focus on golf. Bobby Jones said, “[i]n golf, the customs, etiquette, and decorum are as important as the rules of play.” Trump, we learned from Rick Reilly’s recent book, cheats at golf.
The Mueller report also outlined ten potential acts of obstruction of justice by the president. A sitting president cannot be indicted, according to a Department of Justice memorandum. Whether that legal theory is right or not, the most Mueller believed he could do was identify those counts and request that Congress act.
Aware of that, Attorney General William Barr pre-determined that he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had the authority to conclude whether or not Trump broke the law. They don’t. It’s not how the system works, even for a president. The appropriate next step — and there should be political appetite for it — is for Congress to exercise its oversight authority, as the report requests.
It’s imperative for the administration of justice.
The report makes clear that Trump tried to shut down the Mueller investigation on numerous occasions, engaging even the likes of Corey Lewandowski, who has never worked in the administration, to do his bidding (Lewandowski declined according to the report). He pressured his staffers to lie on his behalf. Potential evidence was destroyed.
Now we understand why.
When news of Mueller’s appointment made it to the president, Trump responded, “This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”
The Mueller report suggests the president was right, but the Democrats should not stop there.
Trump is certain to barnstorm the country and declare that he has been exonerated. This is not true, but if the Democrats do not act, it will only feed his false narrative.
Without accountability, what will deter Trump from stretching the boundary of executive authority beyond the perilous point we have already reached? He still has one election left, after all.
Even the corrupt, venal Nixon era ultimately demonstrated that the institution of the presidency is more sacred than the individual who occupies the oval office. In the Trump era, it’s an open question.
If Trump avoids further congressional scrutiny, he will win a significant victory over our constitutional prerogatives, our sacred institutions, and justice itself — and America will be the loser.
Blake Rutherford is the former chief of staff and special advisor to the attorneys general of Arkansas and Pennsylvania and a member of the Cozen O’Connor law firm; he previously served as vice president of McLarty Companies, led by former Clinton White House chief of staff Thomas F. “Mack” McLarty, where he provided strategic counsel, executive management, communications strategy, and legal guidance. He also worked on the Clinton-Gore ’96 presidential campaign, the 53rd Presidential Inaugural Committee, and the Gore 2000 presidential campaign.