Special counsel Robert Mueller has presented his report to Attorney General William Barr who hasn’t yet released it to the public or Congress. The four-page “principle conclusions” Barr produced two days later, however, can’t possibly do justice to the reported 300 plus page document that Mueller delivered to him. In fact, the special counsel statute doesn’t call for Barr to produce such a summary, per se, much less one that attempts to exonerate President Trump and gives an opinion on the president’s obstruction of justice. I believe Barr’s letter was intended to hamstring ongoing investigations by the Democrat-controlled House and please Trump. And he certainly succeeded in the latter.
Immediately, Trump, most Republicans, the right-wing media and even some in the liberal media seemed to take Barr’s hastily prepared conclusions as clearing Trump and his campaign of wrong doing. Some on the right are even calling for retaliation against those who suggested that Trump was guilty of collusion or obstruction of justice. Other Republicans want another special counsel to determine whether or not the Russia investigation was legally initiated in the first place. Me thinks Trump and the Republicans are grossly overplaying their hand.
At a public hearing on Thursday, nine Republicans on the House Intelligence committee launched an attack against chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), calling for his resignation. It was an unprecedented move in the formerly, mostly bipartisan group. They appeared to be following up on Trump’s early morning tweet that Schiff “should be forced to resign from Congress.”
Schiff was ready for them, however, and he responded in a way I don’t believe the GOP committee members anticipated. He laid out in dramatic detail how Trump and his associates lied about the numerous suspicious contacts and connections they had with Russians during and after the 2016 election. He called these acts unethical, immoral and corrupt. Acknowledging that Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge them with criminal conspiracy, Schiff said “There is a different word for that than collusion, and it’s called ‘compromise’.” Schiff’s comments can be read and viewed here.
At a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday night, Trump made the best of Barr’s missive, claiming “total” and “complete” exoneration. He told his supporters: “After three years of lies and smears and slander, the Russian hoax is finally dead” and “The collusion delusion is over.” He railed even more strongly against the “fake news” media and his detractors, saying they “would be held accountable” for backing the Mueller investigation. The crowd obliged with chants of “Lock them up.” That’s justice in Trumpland — detractors and opponents should be locked up.
Although Barr said he would release a redacted copy of Mueller’s report in mid-April, I think he’s stonewalling. House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) evidently believes that too; he’s preparing a subpoena for a full, unredacted report that should be approved by his committee on Wednesday. No doubt, Nadler wants to examine why Mueller failed to give an opinion on obstruction of justice.
Still, according to most legal experts, obstruction of justice is not easy to prove. It requires a finding of “corrupt intent.” Since Mueller failed to subpoena Trump to testify in person, perhaps he was unable to establish clear evidence of the requisite intent. Yet, as outlined in Barr’s letter, Trump was not exonerated of a crime by Mueller. It was Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who have opined that there was not sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction.
I don’t think this was a decision they should have made prior to release of Mueller’s report and certainly not after only two days of reviewing its voluminous findings. The case for obstruction will probably look much more compelling after we get the facts.
Regardless, there can be no question that our democratic processes and institutions have been weakened significantly over the past three years. For a fact, Russia significantly influenced the 2016 election, perhaps tipping it to Trump. Numerous members of Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russians before and after the election — and lied about them. Even if Trump is not charged with obstruction of justice, he most certainly attempted to do just that by firing FBI director James Comey, badgering Attorney General Jeff Sessions to resign, issuing hundreds of tweets attacking Mueller, the FBI and the Justice Department and dangling the hope of pardons for those who might testify against him. If these abuses are allowed to stand without consequences, future presidents will be empowered to exert control over the justice system and remain above the law while directing the prosecution of opponents. That would be a tragedy of enormous proportions for our democratic republic.
Fortunately though, eight continuing federal criminal inquiries, several state investigations and the ongoing congressional probes are the products of Mueller’s investigation and there may be more that have not been made public. So, Trump’s legal problems are far from over and he has not yet escaped accountability.
The conclusion of Mueller’s investigation, however, presented Trump with an opportunity to be presidential. He could have admitted making some mistakes, even apologized for his campaign’s contacts with Russians and tried to move on. Instead, Trump has chosen to threaten those who oppose him, tell more lies to those who support him and further divide the nation. All of which conclusively proves once again – Donald Trump is totally unfit for the office he holds.