The long-awaited Mueller report is finally published — sort of.
Most of it was made public on Thursday, with some parts redacted due to ongoing investigations, considerations for the protection of grand jury material, and other reasons.
For the most part, however, these redactions are minor. They’ll need to be addressed at some point, as the American people deserve to know what’s behind the blocked-off portions of this report, but the harm that some worried over was largely overblown.
Attention has turned toward what we do know from this report, as many answers have been provided to questions we have longed to have had answered. Still, a lot of unknowns persist — most notably, what this report may mean for President Donald Trump in the future.
Trump, upon publication of the report submitted by special counsel Robert Mueller, tweeted to his followers online that, once again, he had been exonerated by the findings within.
“As I have been saying all along, NO COLLUSION – NO OBSTRUCTION!” he wrote.
On both parts of his claim, however, there are caveats.
Crime of “Collusion” isn’t provable, but complete “exoneration” isn’t there, either
On the collusion side, Mueller didn’t actually outright state that there wasn’t any collusion on behalf of the Trump campaign in 2016. Rather, he noted that there weren’t any charges of collusion (or rather, coordination) that would be appropriate to put forth against the president.
In fact, reading what Mueller had to say gives you a different impression than what Trump thinks he said. “The investigation established multiple links between Trump campaign officials tied to the Russian government,” the report stated. “Those links included Russian offers of assistance…[and] in some instances, the campaign was receptive to the offer.”
That’s a far cry from “total exoneration,” and demonstrates that while the campaign didn’t coordinate with Russia, it came damn near close to. FiveThirtyEight.com’s Nate Silver puts it, er, in a different way:
Overall, the impression one gets from Vol. I is there was rather explicit flirting between the Trump campaign and Russia, even some making out, but it was a sloppy night and they didn't get around to hooking up, although they might have if circumstances had been a bit different.
— Nate Silver (@NateSilver538) April 18, 2019
Trump probably committed a crime of obstruction of justice
On charges of obstruction of justice, Trump fares even worse, and there’s no other way to look at it except to say that Mueller probably, really wanted to charge the president with a crime, but didn’t feel like he could.
Several examples abound of Trump making attempts at obstructing the Russia investigation. Consider, for example, that he had ordered his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fire Mueller. McGahn refused to do so, telling Trump he’d rather quit before doing so. Trump relented.
It’s events like those in the final report that demonstrate Trump wanted to break the law, but was unable to do so. “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the person who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” the Mueller report states.
Mueller further points out that he cannot say unequivocally that Trump didn’t commit a crime.
“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,” the report says. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Other issues to ponder over
Beyond obstruction of justice and collusion, other issues may haunt the president from this report.
After Trump finished a speech in 2016, asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s servers to find 30,000 of her classified emails that were deleted, Trump went beyond his request to the Kremlin and told his own campaign staff to find the emails, according to reporting from CNN.
Trump previously said that his request to Russia was just a joke, but the Mueller investigation revealed it was no joking matter to him. This incident could lead some to make a very bold, yet true, statement: that Trump wanted his staff to hack into his political opponents’ emails the same way that Nixon’s campaign tried to bug the Democratic National Committee at the Watergate Hotel.
Can anyone say, Watergate 2.0?
Where we go from here?
So what does it all mean? The president isn’t out of the woods yet. He will likely continue to claim just the opposite, that the report exonerates him from any criminal charges. And technically, that’s true: no charges are being made at this time.
But I interpret Mueller’s report in a different way. As The Nation’s Joshua Holland puts it, the report is more of a referral to Congress to decide what should be done (especially on the obstruction questions) rather than a “yes/no” decision on whether the president committed a crime or not.
The bottom line is that Robert Mueller’s report is an impeachment referral.
— Joshua Holland ???? (@JoshuaHol) April 18, 2019
Politically speaking, this report is bad news for Trump. It puts a spotlight on the dysfunction and craziness that has been inherent in his administration since the start. It demonstrates that, rather than hiring all of the “best” people, like he promised he would, he surrounded himself with questionable individuals who had ties to foreign nations that didn’t previously disclose them.
As far as whether this document can be used to get him out of office, two questions here must be answered: first, whether that’s deserved or not. Congress has to determine whether Trump did in fact obstruct justice, and then from there has to determine whether it was a bad enough offense to warrant his expulsion from the White House.
Second, those who push for impeachment in the months ahead have to consider whether such a move would be successful or not. In all likelihood, it wouldn’t be: there’s still too much support for the president in the U.S. Senate, and with two-thirds of that body needing to vote to indict, Trump likely would survive any impeachment attempts to remove him from the presidency.
With that point in mind, Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have to consider whether impeachment is worth it or not.
On the one hand, if Trump’s actions detailed within the report are abhorrent enough, impeachment proceedings are a political way to demonstrate that what the president did was bad. In this sense, those proceedings would serve as a censure of the president. On the other hand, some might see it as a waste of time — and undoubtedly, Trump would use the event of impeachment as a way to rile up his base to support him.
Would it be worth it to try? Probably not, in a practical sense. But some action by Congress must be taken to express doubts of this president’s ability to lead, and admonish his actions so far during his tenure.
The president attempted at several points to obstruct justice. That shouldn’t be allowed to stand, even if he failed at every attempt, and efforts to condemn those actions by him should be made by the Article 1 branch of government.
Perhaps Congress should try to simply censure the president. But impeachment hearings, which may ultimately fail in a Trump-friendly Senate, would still be a justified action, based on Mueller’s findings. Either way, something has to be said and done about this president’s malfeasances while in office. To let these actions stand without reprimand would be a shameful act in its own right.
Featured image credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr