Mulling Over the Mueller Report


Jewish Light Editorial

After two rancorous years of speculation about what special counsel Robert Mueller might find in his probe of the Trump campaign and administration, the final version — with redactions — has been released to Congress, the White House and the American people. Predictably, responses have fallen largely along partisan lines.  

Democrats who hoped that the report would include a smoking gun that could form the basis for impeachment of President Donald Trump were disappointed when Mueller found insufficient evidence for charges that any of the president’s campaign team colluded with Russia.  

The same Democrats stressed that Mueller pointedly said that he did not make an official finding that the president had obstructed justice. They also note that Mueller was constrained by the Justice Department’s longstanding position that a sitting president cannot be indicted, so his conclusions do not necessarily mean that no obstruction or attempted obstruction occurred.  

For their part, Trump and most Republicans initially welcomed the report as an exoneration, because no conspiracy could be proved and the report found no obstruction. But that claim flies in the face of what Attorney General William Barr said in his initial letter to lawmakers, in which he said:


“The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’ ”

Typically, after Trump initially praised Mueller and bragged of the special counsel’s conclusions, he later attacked the report as highly biased and reportedly was infuriated at its overall findings, which included damning evidence of a culture of corruption in the White House. 

Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren became the first declared Democratic candidate to call for the House to begin impeachment proceedings. Other Democrats, such as  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, warned against such a move, explaining that with a solid GOP majority in the Senate and Trump’s high approval ratings among Republicans, even if he were impeached by the House there is no politically realistic expectation that the Senate would convict him and remove him from office. 

Still other Democrats say that when former President Bill Clinton was impeached but not convicted, his approval ratings soared and he left office with a strong margin of American support. They worry that Trump could gain by portraying himself as the victim of a one-sided “witch hunt.”

Among the Sunday talk show hosts, perhaps Jake Tapper of CNN offered the most sober assessment of the fallout from the release of the report, saying, “No one seems interested in what is right or wrong. They are only interested in political advantage.”

Indeed, it seems that the release of the long-awaited report, which covers 448 pages and cost taxpayers $25 million, did not end the deeply partisan divide in Washington and across the nation; it only deepened it.

Democrats in Congress have already started to subpoena documents from Trump that predate his term of office and involve tax returns and business transactions that took place before he even considered running for president. The move brought a swift legal challenge from the president. And some members of Congress want to see an unredacted version of the report, plus previously undisclosed supporting evidence that Mueller used to form his conclusions.

On the Republican side, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s most ardent and misguided cheerleaders, made the stunning assertion that “there’s  nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.” And Sen. Lindsey Graham wants to strike back and revive the accusations against 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. 

Not all members of the GOP agreed. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, now in the Senate, wrote of the report: “I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president.”

Sadly, with so many opinions and conclusions flying back and forth, the zeal on the part of both parties might only serve to increase distrust of Congress and other American institutions. The Russians tried to create division and discord during the 2016 campaign, and it appears that they have been largely successful.

If Mueller found insufficient evidence to warrant a charge of collusion, it seems to be only because members of the president’s own staff were either incompetent anddisorganized enough that they could not get their acts  together, or that some went out of their way to block his worst impulses. Former White House Counsel Don McGahn could very well have saved Trump from himself by refusing to follow through on a demand that Mueller be fired.

While the dust continues to settle from the Mueller report, amid reasonable efforts to make more information available, one crucial point stands out: Trump may not be charged with obstructing justice, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying. Whether or not impeachment results, that fact should prompt a crucial debate during next year’s presidential campaign over what the president knew, when he knew it and how hard he tried to make sure the public could never find out.