Editorial: Move on from Mueller report
Predictably, the delivery of the exhaustive report into whether Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign colluded with the Russians, leading the president to obstruct justice to cover it up, settled nothing. Republicans believe the 448-page document exonerates Trump of any wrongdoing, and Democrats are convinced it provides evidence of a corrupt administration.
In reality, it does neither.
On the core question of whether the Trump campaign worked with Russians to gain an advantage in 2016, the report from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is conclusive: “… the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Since collusion was the charge that started the probe two years ago, that should have been the end of the story. But as is most often the case, what happens after the investigation becomes the real issue.
While Mueller and his team did not find enough evidence of obstruction to issue criminal charges, it did cite 10 examples where the president tried to interfere with the investigation. Most of the incidents appear to stem from Trump’s impulsiveness and lack of political and legal savvy.
Yet in a couple of cases, the activity appears more serious. Particularly troubling are findings that the president asked staffers not to disclose emails about a meeting with individuals who purported to be agents of Russian interests. That is embarrassing and politically damaging for Trump, but not enough to support charges, according to the report. Still, Mueller suggested that Congress could dig further.
Bet that it will. The newly Democratic-controlled House has already launched numerous investigations into the Trump administration, and this report will provide the material to support those and justify more.
But to what end?
If Mueller, whose team of 19 attorneys issued 2,800 grand jury subpoenas, executed 500 search-and-seizure warrants and interviewed roughly 500 witnesses couldn’t find the smoking gun, Congress is unlikely to do so, either.
Democrats might be able to cobble together evidence to mount an impeachment effort, but their leaders are discouraging them from taking that route. House Minority Leader Steny Hoyer declared impeachment “not worthwhile” after seeing the Mueller report, and he’s right. Americans will have a chance to decide Trump’s fate in just 18 months.
But don’t expect Democrats to end their investigatory flurry and focus instead on addressing America’s myriad problems. Thickening the cloud of suspicion over the Trump administration is too tempting a political tool heading into the 2020 election.
The nation would be better served if Congress instead turned its attention to the truly disturbing section of Mueller’s report, the part that deals with Russian interference in the 2016 election.
While clearing the Trump team of collusion, Mueller provided ample evidence that Russia took an active role in determining the outcome of the presidential race. As part of his probe, the special prosecutor indicted 25 Russians for meddling in the campaign. Most of their efforts were ham-handed attempts to sway voters through social media posts and ads.
Little has been done to safeguard America’s election process from outside interference, and the Russians and others will become more sophisticated in deploying Internet platforms and advancing technology to influence the vote.
Congress should take Mueller’s findings and use them to inform policy aimed at keeping foreigners out of American elections.
The report is in. It’s fair game to be used by both sides in the upcoming presidential election campaign. But it shouldn’t be used by congressional Democrats to continue their relentless efforts to marginalize the Trump presidency. It’s time to move on.