Mueller’s findings roil Washington
A defiant President Trump this week dug in for an all-out political battle after a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released to the public, revealing the dramatic scope of Russian election interference and the president’s furious attempts to derail the investigation. Mueller’s 448-page report unequivocally states that the Russian government believed it would benefit from a Trump presidency and conducted a major effort to help his candidacy, including by hacking the personal email account of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. The Trump campaign was aware of Russia’s support, Mueller found, and “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.” Mueller documented more than 100 contacts between Trump’s associates and Russians during the campaign and after. Nevertheless, Mueller concluded there was “insufficient evidence” to charge Trump or his associates with a criminal conspiracy, citing a lack of proof of an express or implicit agreement with the Russians.
Mueller outlined at least 10 attempts by Trump to interfere with the investigation, including twice ordering White House counsel Donald McGahn II to fire Mueller, which he refused to do. Trump also pressured then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had earlier recused himself, to take back control of the investigation. Trump’s lawyers refused to let Mueller’s team question him in person, and in responding to written questions, the president said some version of “I do not recall” more than 30 times. Mueller ultimately decided not to charge the president with obstruction, citing a thicket of legal obstacles, including Justice Department guidelines saying a sitting president can’t be indicted. But he explicitly refused to exonerate Trump on obstruction, inviting Congress to use its constitutional authority “for addressing presidential misconduct.” He also suggested Trump could be prosecuted on the findings after he leaves office.
Trump raged against the report’s depiction of a deceitful and dysfunctional White House and vowed to resist Democratic attempts to further probe the report’s findings. “This has been litigated for the last two years,” Trump said. “I say it’s enough.”
What the editorials said
“So much for ‘complete and total exoneration,’” said The New York Times. Mueller said he found “substantial evidence” that Trump obstructed justice on numerous occasions. But his “hands were tied.” Unable to indict a sitting president, Mueller decided it would be unfair to accuse Trump of crimes without giving him the chance to defend himself in a trial—so he invited Congress to pick up where he left off. Mueller also suggested Trump could face charges after he leaves the White House and made 14 referrals for further investigation by federal prosecutors—a dozen of which remain secret. “There’s still a long way to go before it can be said that justice has been done.”
Yes, Mueller uncovered some “Trumpian excesses and lies,” said The Wall Street Journal. But on the issue that started all this—Russian collusion—the president “has been telling the truth.” Mueller’s relentless investigators looked everywhere they could to find a crime they could hang on Trump and his associates for their dealings with Russia. None of it stuck. Yes, the president behaved “in typical Trumpian fashion” in his rage over being investigated for a crime he didn’t commit. But despite some “dumb” and self-defeating actions, Trump did not obstruct justice because there was no underlying crime to cover up.
What the columnists said
Trump not only tried to obstruct Mueller’s investigation, it looks like he succeeded, said Jonathan Chait in NYMag.com. All through the investigation, the president acted like a mob boss with the power to hand “get-out-jail-free cards” to his lieutenants. Trump’s political hatchet man Roger Stone, who was in touch with the Russian cutout WikiLeaks and still faces trial, refused to cooperate with Mueller. So did Paul Manafort, who passed campaign polling data on to Russian asset Konstantin Kilimnik for reasons we still don’t know. “Trump beat the rap.” But Mueller found that he was anything but innocent.
Russia bitter-enders will never be satisfied, said Ben Domenech in TheFederalist.com. They’ve gone from “‘Russia stole the election with Trump’ to ‘Trump spoke about trying to undermine the investigation that was being used to smear him every day for two years.’” In the end, not a single American was charged with conspiring with Russia to steal the election. Sadly, instead of putting the issue to bed once and for all, Mueller kicked the obstruction matter to Congress, guaranteeing at least two more years of endless Russia psychodrama.
Trump may not have colluded with the Russians, said Ezra Klein in Vox.com. But it’s now undeniable that he knew about Russian interference, welcomed it as a gift, and then tried to stop it from being investigated. “Rather than defend the rule of law, Trump subverted it.” Even “the most generous reading” of Mueller’s report is “a profoundly damning” portrait of the president of the United States.
The White House is digging in for “weeks, if not months, of trench warfare with Congress,” said Peter Baker, Annie Karni, and Alan Rappeport in The New York Times. After providing nearly 1.5 million pages of documents to Mueller and allowing aides to be questioned, the Trump administration plans to claim executive privilege and resist further inquiries. “I agree with the strategy of now fighting everything,” said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani. It’s unclear if the White House’s strategy will succeed, said Anita Kumar and Andrew Desiderio in Politico.com. The Mueller report is already a public document, raising questions about whether the White House can claim executive privilege when it comes to aides like McGahn, who have already spoken to investigators. Nevertheless, the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate further will create “an atmosphere of total war” on Capitol Hill, with most battles winding up in the courts. Morton Rosenberg, a former legal adviser to the House general counsel, warned that “a constitutional crisis” is coming.
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from AP, Media Bakery, Reuters ■