He collaborated, he obstructed, he’s impeachable
We may never know what motivated William Barr to sacrifice a positive reputation as an attorney and a devotee of the Department of Justice and instead become Donald Trump’s Roy Cohn, the one-time Trump mentor, mob attorney, and right-hand man to Senator Joe McCarthy.
Whatever the reason, Barr has clearly signed on to the approach that Trump so loves — treating anything, including the Constitution, that does not serve Trump’s personal interests as an urgent threat; projecting Trump’s own venal motives onto his critics and opponents; denying and stonewalling. In any event, Barr made his bones with Trump by doing his best to whitewash the Mueller Report, starting with a four-page letter to Congress purporting to summarize its findings but Barr took Mueller’s words out of context and omitted all mention of the damning evidence that courses through the report. He subsequently held a press conference in which he again distorted its conclusions, stating that it found no collusion with the Russians and no obstruction of justice by the president — both assertions profoundly misleading.
I purchased a copy of the report for my Kindle and it is dense reading. It is nonetheless available for free at www.justice.gov/storagereport.pdf. A number of leading publications have printed highlights of the report — but my recommendation would be the blog, Lawfare, edited and written by the writer and legal expert Benjamin Wittes along with a stellar staff. The May 10 blog of this year provides what the team calls its first impressions of the Mueller report. It is thorough and easy-to-read.
Because of Barr’s deliberate efforts to misrepresent the report, some readers may have bought into the fiction that the report somehow exonerates Trump. It does nothing of the kind.
First, the report did not address “collusion,” a term without legal definition, but the narrow question of criminal conspiracy. It found no evidence the Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russians’ disinformation campaigns or hacking of computers belonging to the Democratic committee and the Clinton campaign, but it describes extensive contacts — 140 by one count — between the Trump campaign and the Russians, many of which Trump campaign officials lied about. And it found substantial evidence both “that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts.”
In some of these cases, the report says there was a clear “meeting of the minds” — or an effort to establish one — between members of the Trump campaign and agents of the Russian government, but the object of that agreement was not a federal crime. If these episodes fall short of criminal conspiracy, they nonetheless reveal an obvious effort to work with a hostile foreign power in order to achieve the White House.
If Trump weren’t President, he’d be in jail. That’s the view of a bipartisan group of some thousand former federal prosecutors who signed an open letter stating that Trump’s conduct would warrant criminal obstruction of justice charges if he lived anywhere except in the White House. Nonetheless, it appears to be the current accepted wisdom of House Democratic leadership is that starting impeachment hearings may not be worth the risk.
That seems to be based on three assumptions: First, impeachment would make Trump more popular, second, that impeachment is worthwhile only if it actually ends with removing a president from office — and with a Republican-dominated Senate, conviction of impeachment is essentially impossible. The third assumption is that the voters in 2020, rather than Congress, will remove Trump from office.
But impeachment is just not a tool to remove the president — it’s also a way to stamp this President with historic disapproval and deter similar conduct by future presidents.
The report establishes beyond doubt that a foreign rival engaged in a systematic effort to subvert our democracy, an effort the Russians themselves referred to as “information warfare.” One would think that any American president, regardless of party or ideology would support a fullscale investigation to understand the extent of such interference and try to prevent future threats to our national sovereignty and security.
Instead, Mueller’s report shows that Trump’s concern was not for American democracy, but for saving his own skin.
Donald Trump is a criminal and deserves impeachment as soon as possible.