Editorial: Mueller’s report: Why should we care?
We would bet that four days after the release of the 448-page Mueller Report, most of our readers haven’t glanced at the document itself. No surprise.
Outside the Washington Beltway, most Americans don’t delve that deeply into the details of Washington politics. They read the papers, watch the TV news, listen to it on NPR, catch what others post on Facebook/Twitter (hopefully with a double-dose grain of salt, knowing by now how deliberate misinformation spreads on social media), but never actually go to the source for one’s own critical examination of the evidence.
That’s to be expected; that’s the job of news reporters. The challenge most Americans face, then, is to determine which sources of information they should rely on. Here’s a tip: pick more than one and make sure they at least have the objective of being truthful. In the national news about Trump, that eliminates FoxNews, but otherwise pick your sources, understanding the liberal or conservative bias, and interpret that information accordingly.
More importantly, however, is to ask yourself why you should care; what is it about this government report that makes the Mueller investigation important to you?
Here’s our reason why it matters, then our take on the report:
• Why care? Mueller’s report plays into the larger context of whether the nation is effectively governed by the Founding Father’s three-legged stool: a system of checks and balances between the executive, judicial and legislative branches. The report examines what may have been efforts by Trump’s team to collude with Russia to sway the election, then try to cover up actions of the campaign (obstruction of justice), and to suppress Congress’ oversight whenever possible (aided by a Republican majority in the Senate inclined to do so.)
If the checks and balances aren’t effective, we’re in danger of losing our democracy. That’s why this report and Trump’s presidency have heightened importance. Rarely, if ever, has America elected a president who has been so willing to work against its Constitutional premises and to so readily push the nation toward oligarchy; and never before has the nation seen the justice department, now in the hands of Attorney General William Barr, be so willing to collude with the president in that effort.
What’s important to each American is that they understand what’s at stake, and to determine not just Trump’s innocence of guilt on the specific matters of the Mueller investigation, but whether Trump is fit to be president. Note also that the Mueller report is the most accurate and thoroughly documented window into an ongoing presidency imaginable. That it is told primarily through interviews with Trump’s inner team and is so damning, is what also makes it so incriminating for the president.
• About the Mueller Report: It did not exonerate President Trump from obstruction of justice, despite what Barr and Trump keep saying. What the Mueller Report states is that the special counsel could not exonerate President Trump from the charges of obstruction based on the evidence. The key passage from Mueller is:
“The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent (on obstruction of justice) presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time, 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 (italics added). Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
• But the report also indicates that once Trump is out of office, there is due cause to press the case and evidence to prosecute.
• The report paints a damning portrayal of a president who depends on lies and deceit to govern; and importantly that he directed his staff to lie and commit crimes on his behalf to obstruct justice. The report found that several of his aides and members of the administration refused to carry out his orders to protect themselves from committing a crime, and to protect the president from his own worst instincts.
• While Mueller did not cite the president for obstruction of justice, he does encourage Congress to hold the president accountable to the extent it can. That is, by holding hearings (to determine if the president is fit to hold office), or to impeach.
• And while the report did not find any concrete evidence of Trump’s team colluding with the Russians to sway the election, there were numerous suspicious connections between the Trump campaign team, notably Donald Trump Jr., to be a part of such an effort. And it’s shocking to read in such blunt terms that the Russians interfered in the 2016 election “in sweeping and systematic fashion” — a fact that the president rejected outright for months after the election and the first year of his presidency (even as his team had known of such efforts.) It’s also true that much of the evidence linking the Trump campaign and the Russians interference in the election has been redacted, so there is still more to learn.
• Readers should also pay attention to the numerous caveats Barr has created to keep the president out of trouble, such as not being able to cite a sitting president, and the very definition of collusion he structured around the stolen Clinton emails from Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.
To draw your own conclusions (about these things and much more), read the full report; and here’s a good commentary by conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks.
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