Having read most of the Mueller Report, the facts in Volume II are quite damning, and they point toward impeachment. But not right away. The proper course is for Congress to further develop their record of the events presented in the report (and to consider other matters not part of the report). Once the record is developed, it may confirm the need to impeach.
There’re political risks with impeachment for both sides. But there’s also a question of whether Trump might actually benefit from impeachment—if not politically, then at least in terms of criminal liability.
The Senate, a majority-Republican body, is unlikely to convict even though the facts be plain. That public airing of facts, along with a false dawn of a Republican jury acquittal, could protect him from prosecution once he is no longer president. Not directly, of course. Double jeopardy analyses would not apply to a Senate trial. But the publicity and opportunity to tune a legal defense might be in his favor.
What’s more, Trump’s personal liabilities aside, he probably doesn’t suffer a greater political cost from impeachment than he will already suffer from the report per se. It’s damning as is.
That’s not to say that anyone can expect Trump to welcome or to call for his own impeachment. There are reasons against. For one, the proposition of Trump testifying—given his fraught relationship with the truth. A Senate trial might just be another perjury trap for the man. Another being the precious Senate time taken up on the matter when they could be confirming more William Barr types.
The Republicans, not Trump, probably run the greater risk from a Senate trial. If the case is made and they acquit, that will not look good for a party that wants to claim the mantle of justice. Particularly, the firing of James Comey with the timeline from the report makes the case bad for Republicans. The fact that Trump was wrestling with his own appointed, party-confirmed Republicans to curtail the investigation only makes it a harder charge to dismiss. This is a historically weak position to defend—dead simple in terms of actually whipping the votes for acquittal, but with no ammunition to back it up on the stump.
The Democrats’ risk is merely looking like they are bringing a political action—a brush Trump has tarred them with for over two years now. They’d like a fig leaf of bipartisanship in voting to impeach. But if the record is strong enough, they don’t need it. The self-evincing weakness of no Republicans joining a motion to impeach on damning evidence will only play against the Republicans in the Senate all the more.
If there’s a bipartisan bone in a Republican representative’s body, they should join the call when the time comes.
To be clear, that evidence is in hand.
And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.
So sayeth Attorney General Barr, in an attempt to excuse the attempts at obstruction by Trump. As I read it, Barr makes the case of corrupt motive right there. Acting out of frustration and anger to try to lift the cloud of an investigation is exactly intentionally corrupt obstruction. Sincerity does not lessen the intent, but only sharpens it.
If Trump’s opponents were behind the investigation, that does not allow obstruction. If an investigation is undermining, the courts are there. To circumvent the courts and dispense with an investigation through firings is corrupt! If there are illegal leaks, they are to be investigated and dealt with appropriately. None of what Barr says lifts an ounce of guilt off the president’s head.
Trump had every opportunity to voice and tweet his concerns to the people and to Congress. He chose, instead, to seek the firing of the special counsel, only to be rebuffed. He could have been empathetic to the investigation’s founding, but he fired FBI Director Comey in a particularly—and intentionally—disruptive manner.
The report makes the case of intentionally corrupt attempts to obstruct. Barr himself betrayed an alternative, but equally damning, theory of Trump’s intent. There is no clean reason Trump could have to undertake the actions documented in the report.
Let the record develop. There is a case for impeachment, but there’s equally a case to push for real reforms now and let the next president’s attorney general make the call on an indictment. Real justice will always be about more than cells and shackles. It requires more than trials and investigations can give us. It demands we change the conditions that allow or promote crime.
In the case of obstruction, that might include reporting requirements in the Department of Justice and the White House. It might include changes to the Vacancy Reform Act. A new Special Prosecutor law.
But impeachment is always on the table. It’s in the Constitution for a reason.
The 2020 election will take place in 80 weeks.