Alan Zendell, April 19, 2019
The redacted Mueller Report told us four important things, none of which is a shocking revelation.
First, we learned that a thorough investigation by highly competent interviewers and researchers found that Russia, at the direction of Vladimir Putin, definitely attempted to hack our 2016 election. The intent of the hacking was to help Donald Trump win the election and to sow discord and confusion among Americans. As I said, not exactly a startling revelation.
Second, those same competent investigators found no evidence that Trump, his family, or his campaign staff acted directly to assist the Russians in their attempt to influence the election. They may have behaved stupidly and incompetently, but there was no direct collusion with Russia. Again, not a startling result. No matter what people may have hoped the report would say, even Trump’s most ardent detractors didn’t really believe he had secretly plotted with Putin.
To the extent that suspicion was raised it was largely as a result of Trump’s own public statements and tweets. Remember when he begged Russia to release more of Hillary Clinton’s emails and praised Wikileaks and Julian Assange? Corollary conclusion: if you run your mouth irresponsibly, don’t complain when people question your motivation.
Third, despite all the claims of Fake News and attempts by Democrats to undermine the president, Mueller confirmed that most of the things reported by The New York Times and the Washington Post were correct. The Trump White House was filled with people who were so upset by the actions of the President and his senior staff, that there was a steady stream of accurate leaks.
Fourth, while there were numerous events that suggested the president wanted to kill the Mueller investigation, there was not sufficient evidence to prosecute anyone for obstruction of justice under the definition in federal statute. Again, it was mostly the president’s own public ranting that created the appearance of obstruction, beginning with the NBC News interview in which Trump said he fired FBI Director James Comey to make the Russian thing go away.
To the average non-lawyer, that sounds pretty clear, even if it doesn’t rise to the bar of a federal crime. Attorney General William Barr nearly broke his back bending over to explain that while Trump may have wanted to obstruct justice he never actually did, therefore there was no crime. Barr also argued that since there was no collusion with Russia, there was no underlying crime; thus, Trump’s attempts to obstruct the investigation were not motivated by a desire to cover up criminal activity.
Most Americans can be forgiven for finding that confusing if not unbelievable. Maybe we’ve been watching too many legal dramas, but most of us believe that conspiracy to commit a crime is a crime in itself even if the conspiracy doesn’t result in a criminal act. If someone plots to murder you but you aren’t killed, the perpetrator is still guilty of either an attempt or a conspiracy to commit the crime. The fact that the underlying intended act (murder) never occurred doesn’t absolve the perpetrator.
Perhaps the most surprising statement made by AG Barr was that since Trump’s attempts to kill the investigation were motivated by his anger and frustration over fears that his presidency would be undermined, that excused all of his actions. Barr’s defense effectively said it’s all right for the president to throw public tantrums whenever he’s upset.
The unstated conclusion of the Mueller Report is that Donald Trump did everything possible to kill the investigation. His clear intent was to obstruct justice. The report cited ten different instances in which Trump acted to either create a groundswell of public opposition to Mueller’s investigation or in which he threatened to stop it himself by ordering that Mueller be fired, but was deterred by his own legal staff. CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, a level-headed attorney with no obvious political agenda, said, “If that’s not obstruction of justice, I don’t know what is.”
It’s clear that Trump’s presidency was probably saved by then White House Counsel Don McGahn who refused to follow Trump’s direct order to instruct the Justice Department to fire Mueller and then to lie about it. That was part of a pattern of lies and obfuscation that continued for two full years.
Despite exonerating the president of collusion with Russia, the Mueller Report couldn’t be more damning. It paints a picture of a president who continually lies, shoots irresponsibly from the hip, and displays both a lack of knowledge of, and total contempt for law. The most important thing the report does is confirm that Donald Trump is absolutely unfit to be president.