Welch: Trump should face obstruction of justice probe
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Peter Welch called for Congressional hearings on specific findings in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. But the Vermont Democrat stopped short of endorsing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump for allegedly trying to obstruct the investigation.
Welch, Vermont’s lone U.S. House representative, shared his views on the Mueller report — and what might come next — during a Tuesday phone interview with the Addison Independent.
“All in all, it was a disturbing report,” Welch said of the 488-page document, a redacted version of which was released by U.S. Attorney General William Barr on April 18.
“The document shows very disturbing behavior,” he added. “There were multiple contacts between the president’s team and Russians. Many of the president’s top advisors, including his campaign manager, have been convicted. And there was a significant effort on the part of the president to obstruct the investigation — including the efforts to fire Mueller.”
The Mueller report sums up a two-year counterintelligence investigation into the Russian government interference in the 2016 presidential election, which saw Trump prevail over Democrat Hilary Clinton, who out-polled her rival by almost 3 million in the popular vote.
The investigation found no collusion between Trump and Russian officials on the issue of elections meddling, but it didn’t exonerate the president on the topic of obstruction of justice. The report cites 10 instances in which Trump could have obstructed justice. U.S. House leaders are now weighing action they could take against Trump based on the report’s findings.
Welch on Tuesday advocated for hearings on the obstruction of justice allegations cited in the Mueller report. He sits on two of the three committees that would have jurisdiction in the hearings process: The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“Impeachment is on the table; it certainly appears many of the documented steps it took to obstruct justice are impeachable,” Welch said. “But in my view, the approach we should take is to have hearings that are specific and concrete on each of those (10) items. If we have hearings, then it’s going to allow more participation by the American people, understanding what he did and how he did, and how constant and relentless his efforts were to interfere with this investigation. It raises the question of, ‘What does he have to hide?’ This is a process that has to take place, and I think hearings are the way to go.”
He acknowledged some of his Democratic colleagues are calling for impeachment proceedings against Trump. But Welch urged caution in that regard.
“If a prosecutor is going to build a case, it’s not just a matter of saying ‘somebody’s guilty’; it’s carefully constructing evidence, carefully presenting it, knowing you have to do it in a way that persuades that jury of 12 who know nothing about (the case) to begin with,” said Welch, a lawyer by trade. “To some extent, that’s an aspect of what we have to do here. We have to lay this out and make the case. The Mueller report gave a roadmap, but right now for many, it’s just a continuation of partisan politics. The guardrails of our democracy are really under challenge by this president. If we’re going to restore respect for the rule of law and confidence in government, there’s a big role the American public have to play.”
Rather than pursuing impeachment, Welch believes Democrats should instead work toward Trump’s defeat in the 2020 elections.
“I think that’s the most important thing we can do to get our Democracy back on track,” he said. “We’ve got to be very careful on how we proceed, because this is not just about impeaching the sitting president, it’s about restoring a 200-plus-year Democracy.”
Welch praised Mueller for generating what he said was a thorough report, one that cost taxpayers around $25 million.
“I think the credibility of that report started with the selection of Mueller to do it, and that was based on his reputation as a ‘prosecutor’s prosecutor,’ who played it totally by the book,” Welch said. “(Mueller) lived up to his reputation as a person who is totally dedicated to the strictest legal standards.”
ATTORNEY GENERAL BARR
But he’s disappointed with the way in which Barr unveiled the report, which had many words blacked out.
“The report shows the relentless efforts on the part of Trump and his team to obstruct and interfere with the investigation,” Welch said. “The damage is compounded by the obvious bad role that Attorney General Barr played — first, with his completely misleading four-page summary of the 400-plus-page report, and then his bizarre ‘pre-buttal’ that he gave just before the report was released, when he said things that were immediately refuted once the report was out.”
Barr, according to Welch, essentially acted as “the federal defender for President Trump. That in itself is fairly damaging.”
The manner in which Barr released the Mueller report was contrary to Americans’ expectations of a bias-free Justice Department, according to Welch.
“We’ve developed a strong tradition since Watergate of the Justice Department being an impartial institution responsible for justice,” he said. “That’s been a touchstone through Republican and Democratic administrations. The fact that Barr essentially played defender of Trump, as opposed to chief law enforcement officer, is very regrettable — and quite consistent with the findings of the Muller report.”
Welch said he has a “high level of discomfort” with the many redactions in the Mueller report. He’d like the subject of the redactions to be brought up during Congressional hearings.
“I think the full report should be provided to the American people, not just the members of Congress,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a low level of trust about the redactions — particularly in view of the obvious deceptive approach the Attorney General Barr took to begin with.”
Welch is still reviewing nuances of the Mueller report, and hopes other citizens will take the time to do so, too.
“I think the power of this report is how complete it is,” Welch said. “What it shows is that the White House was ‘all obstruction, all the time.’ This was a topic that dominated a lot of the activity by President Trump and by the people around him. As a citizen, it makes me ask the question, ‘When did he have time to govern?’ He was so caught up in this, so beleaguered with the stain on his election as a result of losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, and by the enormous benefit he received through Russian interference. You see a president that’s been very preoccupied by what I think is a real theme on the legitimacy of his election.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].
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