The Mueller report makes very clear a number of important issues of concern for the American people.
The report states: “The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion. Evidence of Russian government operations began to surface in mid-2016.” (Vol. I, p. 1) It also indicates the extent of the Trump Campaign’s interactions with the Russians: “The Russian contacts consisted of business connections, offers of assistance to the Campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for Campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations.” (Vol. I, p. 5) The Special Counsel ultimately concluded that “the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Vol. I, p. 2 and pp. 180-81) However, the actions by Russia and Trump Campaign officials, set forth throughout Volume I of the Mueller report, should be the subject of review, hearings and legislation.
Democrats in Congress have and will continue to hold President Trump accountable through oversight and the passage of legislation, which seeks to rid the people’s government of the corruption that runs rampant throughout the Trump Administration. Democrats will also continue to insist that Attorney General Barr make public all grand jury information and the underlying evidence because the American people deserve to know the whole truth.
Congressional Republicans have acted more like lapdogs than leaders of a co-equal branch of government by refusing to condemn President Trump’s conduct, as outlined in Volume II of the report, or work in good faith to conduct oversight and enact legislation in response to the Mueller report. A just measure of accountability requires Congressional Republicans to condemn the President's conduct, as outlined in the report, in more than hushed comments to their colleagues.
Some news media stories highlighted ten examples of Trump obstructing the investigations into Russia’s election interference. The President’s conduct described in Volume II of the Mueller report is conduct no President or public official should ever engage in. As the report states:
"Our investigation found multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations. The incidents were often carried out through one-on-one meetings in which the President sought to use his official power outside of usual channels." (Vol. II, p. 157)
Several of the actions taken by the President, set forth in exhaustive detail in Volume II, may also constitute criminal acts. I will highlight only two examples here.
First, beginning on page 77 of Volume II, the report focuses on the President’s efforts to remove the Special Counsel. After the Special Counsel’s appointment in May 2017, the press reported on June 14 that the President was being personally investigated for obstruction of justice and “[t]he President responded with a series of tweets criticizing the Special Counsel’s investigation.” (Vol. II, pp. 77-78) The President asserted that Mueller had conflicts of interest, and his advisors hinted that he might fire Mueller. (Vol. II, pp. 82-83) Then, on June 17, just days after a June 14 Washington Post story regarding the obstruction of justice part of the investigation, the President called White House Counsel Don McGahn and “directed him to have the Special Counsel removed.” (Vol. II, p. 85) The President made a second call to McGahn that night, saying at one point that “Mueller has to go . . . call me back when you do it.” (Vol. II, p. 86) A key part of the evidence is that McGahn “understood the President to be saying that the Special Counsel had to be removed by [Rod] Rosenstein.” (Vol. II, p. 86) McGahn “did not plan to follow the President’s directive” and “decided he had to resign.” (Vol. II, p. 86) The report then begins its analysis of this set of facts by discussing whether “the attempt to remove the Special Counsel would qualify as an obstructive act.” (Vol. II, pp. 87-88)
Second, two days after the President’s direction to McGahn, the President met alone with Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, who was not a member of the Administration. “The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions. The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions . . . .” (Vol. II, p. 91) According to Lewandowski’s notes, “The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing [that] our POTUS . . . is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel [because] he hasn’t done anything wrong.” (Vol. II, p. 91) According to the report, “[t]he dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference.” (Vol. II, p. 91) The President followed up on this request on July 19, and when Lewandowski attempted to have White House official Rick Dearborn deliver the message to Sessions, Dearborn “recalled not wanting to ask where it came from or think further about doing anything with it” because it “definitely raised an eyebrow.” (Vol. II, p. 93) The report indicates that this was an obstructive act. “[T]he President’s directives indicate that Sessions was being instructed to tell the Special Counsel to end the existing investigation into the President and his campaign.” (Vol. II, p. 97)
As the report notes, “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President”—including McGahn, Lewandowski and Dearborn—“declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” (Vol. II, p. 158)
President Trump’s actions chronicled in Volume II of the report (especially pages 77 to 158) are contrary to his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution.” Over the coming weeks and months, members of Congress will debate how to respond to that. Special Counsel Mueller “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” because “[t]he Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) has issued an opinion finding that ‘the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions’ in violation of ‘the constitutional separation of powers.’” (Vol. II, p. 1)
Responding appropriately to the President’s conduct, as set forth in the report, will require additional Congressional action: hearings, legislation and potentially other actions. The question of impeachment rests solely with the House of Representatives. In the event of an impeachment in the House, a trial would take place in the Senate. As a Senator who would have the solemn responsibility of weighing evidence during an impeachment trial, I will not render a judgment as to whether impeachment proceedings should begin or how I would vote before hearing all the evidence.
Furthermore, both parties must take action to stop Russia from interfering in the 2020 elections. According to the Mueller report, “[t]he Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.” (Vol. I, p. 1) The President has demonstrated no willingness to lead on this. His lack of action is a serious, dangerous dereliction of his sworn duty to protect our Nation “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” The Senate should consider sanctions and other punitive actions against Russia. Unfortunately, Congressional Republicans are complicit in allowing Trump to evade his duty to our Nation to stop Russian interference.
Our country owes a substantial debt of gratitude to Special Counsel Mueller and his entire team for their willingness to undertake and complete this difficult investigation.