By Leslee Kulba- Dufus read the Mueller report and did not see what she was hearing in the media. The cries of “No collusion!” and “Completely exonerated!” do not jibe with the content of the report. Collusion, incidentally, has no legal precedent in the context of the investigation, so Mueller instead investigated “conspiracy” and “coordination.”
The Mueller report has two parts. The first deals with Russian interference in the 2016 election. The alleged crimes took three forms: (1) pushing pro-Trump messaging in social media, (2) hacking the DNC computer networks, and (3) forging relationships with persons close to the candidate. The findings of this part of the investigation have been largely reported, since eight people working for Trump’s campaign or administration, 13 Russian nationals, 12 Russian intelligence officers, three Russian companies, and two others have been charged on counts from the special counsel’s grand jury indictments.
The second part addressed obstruction of justice. In three places, this portion of the report concludes, “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, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.
The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
According to narratives pushed by the president himself, then FBI Director James Comey told him three times that he was not being investigated by the agency. That may have been because the intelligence community does not typically clue people that they are being investigated. It could also be that the president really wasn’t under investigation until he started removing and trying to remove people charged with investigating the Russian investigation.
The second part of the report draws on testimony from people including Rod Rosenstein, KT McFarland, Don McGahn, and Corey Lewandowski, who all said they felt pressure by the president to fire or “unrecuse,” key people in the investigation (Comey, Robert Mueller, Jeff Sessions) or shut down investigations entirely. Testimony shows a pattern of the president wanting to establish a paper trail leading to the witnesses themselves, not him, and requests to overstep authority.
If the accusations are found to be true, and if the president were an ordinary citizen, he would be up for charges of obstruction of justice for suborning perjury.
Additional accusations of obstruction of justice pertain to tweets, public statements, and private communications of the president toward witnesses as they were testifying. These include encouragement for Michael Flynn to “stay strong,” and repeatedly telling Michael Cohen, directly and through others, that, “the president loves you.” When it became public that Michael Cohen had flipped against the president, Trump excoriated him and said he was a “rat.”
Knowing full well that as president he had the power to pardon individuals, this pattern of showing and withdrawing grace in communications with witnesses could be construed as bribery. While there is no blue-book, pecuniary number associated with a presidential pardon, it would certainly be a thing of value. The president, again, if he were a private-sector citizen, could be on the hook for this also.
But the president’s lawyers have said he is exempt. “You cannot indict a sitting president!” they repeat. To this, Mueller studied existing case law and concluded the protections afforded a sitting president in Article II of the Constitution immunize him from meddling by other branches of government only inasmuch as the president is acting in the national interest.
Mueller did not expect any legal body with jurisdiction to say the president should be defended in dangling bribes and forcing others to testify falsely if it serves the president’s personal purposes (like protecting financial interest or keeping family members out of jail) and not the patriotic purposes of upholding the law and standards of justice in the country. In many instances, it appeared Mueller was setting the investigation up for Congress to take over.
The president was asked to testify as part of the investigation, and he refused. Instead, he settled for providing written statements. The answers, attributed to Trump, only addressed some of the questions, and those responses typically included a statement like, “I don’t remember,” “I don’t recall,” or, “I have no recollection of….”
In sum, it is not accurate to say the Mueller report “completely exonerated” the president, and there was “no collusion.” The report says Trump could be in a heap of trouble if Congress wants to pursue this. The question is, is it wise for Republicans to sweep this under the rug and hope the Democrats don’t read the report, although many already have? Or try something to once again earn Republicans the honor of being the defenders of the Constitution?