Like millions of others, I am curious to see what we ordinary Americans will be allowed to read in the final report Mr. Mueller sent to the Attorney General last week. The AG has sent to House and Senate leadership the “primary conclusions” of that document, not the Mueller report itself. By intent or leakage, the rest of us might later get to see the document(s) (as redacted for reasons of national security and protection of unindicted persons). Department of Justice rules protect a sitting president from indictment, so we may learn little about President Trump’s behavior regardless of what he has done.
Fewer millions expect to be disappointed—in my case from three sources. (1) The report that emerges into the light of day will not produce a fly-on-the wall account of everything Trump or anyone in his campaign has done that is unlawful, unethical, untruthful, unpatriotic, injudicious, or reckless. (2) The report will not reach conclusions that Trump and persons in or linked to his campaign have acted lawfully, ethically, patriotically, judiciously, and thoughtfully.
After all, the charge to Mueller from Attorney General Rod Rosenstein was not to investigate Trump’s morality or amiability, but “Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” and “federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, including lying to authorities in the course of that investigation.”
However, I anticipate my most distressing disappointment will be (3) Trump’s deluge of lies about the report, claiming it as vindication from all charges, despite the report’s disclaimer that it is not to be taken as exoneration. His devotees seem to fall for whatever fabrication he comes up with, though others have learned to recognize and expect Trump’s clever misuse of language to deceive. (No, Mr. Trump, “border wall” and “border security” are not synonymous.) We can expect to hear him say the Special Counsel has proven he and the campaign are innocent of charges. But unless there is a radically different outcome of Mueller’s investigation than anything mentioned thus far, that is an outright lie, one already begun.
Further, the president is either too dim-witted or too conniving to communicate the difference between, among other examples, “failure to prove obstruction of justice” and “proof there was no obstruction of justice.” Maybe he believes they mean the same and, if so, the fear plaguing his presidency may have been prematurely reduced. Having in his own mind “won,” Trump—thus relieved of his fear—can get back to his crusade to weaken judicial independence, engage the Attorney General as his personal lawyer, undermine freedom of the press, and demand homage from Republicans in the Senate and House. Slackening any remaining self-restraints on his autocratic path promises more danger for the republic than he has already wrought, rather along the lines of “what doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”
Remember, too, that whatever emboldens Trump’s authoritarian streak further bonds his sycophants to him, for he’s not only their ticket to re-election, but their escape from blistering tweets. If the Senate, already a subsidiary of the White House, can find a way to suppress its role even further, expect Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham and others to find it. They seem little impressed with the role the Constitution laid out.
My case here is not for impeachment, certainly not under the current conditions of an obsequious Senate and overwhelmed House. Despite its Democratic majority, the House is struggling with a desire to impeach, but is faced with a surfeit of overdue investigations and the pressure of a looming presidential campaign. Even if there were not a lot on its plate, the House would face certain defeat in the Senate trial due to its Republican majority. Some observers have warned that impeaching, then losing the trial phase (as occurred with Bill Clinton) can easily make the president stronger, not weaker.
In other words, I want to see the House do the effective portion of its job, but forget impeachment, for the Senate’s adulation of Trump will not only doom the trial to defeat but subject the House to crippling distraction. As to the upcoming presidential primaries, Democratic candidates would do well to minimize ad hominem arguments among themselves, debating with knowledgeable rigor, moral strength, and common decency. If those things don’t yield a replacement of Trump, then perhaps we deserve him.