So now that we have the damning Mueller Report, or much of it, in hand, the obvious question is what the hell we should do with it.
If you read the report — and I advise anyone who wants to take serious part in this conversation to do the full 448-page slog — you can’t miss the obvious invitation for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.
Should House Democrats accept the invitation, despite the fact that Senate Republicans would never vote to convict Donald Trump? This is how unlikely it would be: If all the Senate Democrats held, they’d still need 20 Republicans, almost all of whom have enabled Trump’s behavior, to toss Trump from office. If those Republicans voted to convict, they’d be basically voting to convict themselves as accessories.
On Friday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the first of the presidential candidates to call for impeachment hearings. Julian Castro followed. That may be the right political call for Warren, who needs to rally the progressive base, but would it be the right political call for Democrats in general, not to mention for the country?
There’s a theory, which many hold, that impeaching Trump could be the most likely path for him to get re-elected. The safe call is to have more hearings and leave it there. That’s where Nancy Pelosi seems to be — and without Pelosi, the question is pretty much moot.
But there’s still this question: Would failing to impeach be the honest call?
It’s obvious that Trump never should have been president. But it’s just as obvious that he was elected president — if due to some unlikely circumstances — and that he could be re-elected. Whatever call it is, it’s not an easy call.
Here’s what we do know. If Bob Mueller could have indicted Trump — Justice Department rules say you can’t indict a sitting president, which is more a guideline than a constitutionally held rule — he likely would have. Instead, in somewhat strangled language, the report says that on the subject of obstruction of justice — a presidential impeachment standby — Mueller couldn’t exonerate Trump.
Here’s the money quote from the report: “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. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
He couldn’t exonerate Trump because the report gives so much evidence of Trump’s attempts to interfere with the investigation — of the times he lied, of the times he encouraged his aides to lie on his behalf, of the warnings he tweeted to witnesses. It is a White House, as a Washington Post headline says, of “paranoia, lies and fear.”
Trump has claimed victory because no one could show his campaign actively conspired with the Russians. But the report does show, as if anyone doubted it, that the Russians were the bad actors in the 2016 campaign — a fact Trump has consistently either minimized or denied — and were acting on Trump’s behalf. And even worse, that Trump actively welcomed their help.
So, let’s get this much straight. Forget the Game of Thrones meme. Forget Attorney General Bill Barr’s shameful misdirection and his disingenuous appeal for sympathy for the beleaguered president. Trump didn’t get exonerated in this report. He was eviscerated. And even he knows it.
As now-Sen. Mitt Romney — finally locating his conscience — tweeted, “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President.” OK, so Romney’s a little late to the party, but I can name a few prominent Colorado Republicans who have yet to show.
For any other president — any other — this report would be beyond devastating. It would be, as Trump himself predicted when Mueller was named special counsel, “the end of (his) presidency.” Trump was wrong about that. His presidency goes apace — as I write this, he’s in Florida golfing with Rush Limbaugh.
But when Trump, according to the report, said in the same breath, “I’m fucked,” he was both right and wrong. Any fair reading of the report shows that he is, in fact, screwed — by all those who ratted him out/told the truth to Mueller’s team, who presented us with 10 possible examples of obstruction of justice. In the one comforting reveal in the Mueller report, many of those obstruction attempts were compromised when Trump’s aides refused to carry out his orders.
And yet. And yet.
His supporters will support Trump even if the president is backing away from exoneration, seeing now that the very word has become late-night comedy fodder. So he is back to hoax and more. In tweets Friday, we got “Crazy Mueller Report,” “18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters,” “illegally Started Hoax” and “total bullshit.”
Republicans in Congress, with rare exceptions, will go in one of two ways: 1. They’ll dismiss or ignore the findings in the report or 2. They’ll go the Cory Gardner way, which is to thank Mueller for his efforts, badmouth the Russians, say it’s time for Congress to get back to work and never, ever, even once, mention Trump, collusion or obstruction.
Which takes us back to impeachment and what the point would be. I’m not a fan of impeachment. No one can be surprised by Trump’s presidency. His approval ratings aren’t much different from when he won election. He didn’t win in spite of who he is, but, in large part, because of who he is.
Democrats know what happened when Republicans overreached and impeached Bill Clinton, and they rightly fear the same could happen to them. But this is different. Yes, the politics will say to leave it alone. But sometimes even politics is about something more than, well, politics. Sometimes, you just have to do the right thing. When the president is a threat to democracy — and it’s all laid out neatly in a 448-page report — how much choice do you really have?