There are no bombshells. But the redacted Mueller report provides small comfort for Donald Trump on questions of illegal acts, while increasing his culpability on ethical and moral grounds.
It provides a roadmap − 10 instances of possible obstruction of justice − for Democrats to go after Mr. Trump in respect to his actions on the Russian election-interference file. They will undoubtedly do so, dashing the hope that he can put this controversy − one that has dogged his presidency from Day 1 − behind him.
The report paints an offensive portrait of the President. Though it affirms, as Attorney-General William Barr revealed last month, that there was no collusion with the Russians by the Trump team in the 2016 campaign, it is damning on the obstruction question.
Among the conclusions, how can Democrats not like this one? “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
A prime example, as the report details, was Mr. Trump telling his legal counsel at the time Don McGahn to have Robert Mueller fired. Mr. McGahn did not follow up. When the media broke the story, Mr. Trump then put pressure on Mr. McGhan to deny it. Again, the counsel held his ground.
The 448-page report details “multiple acts by the President that were capable of exerting undue influence over law-enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.”
Republicans are nevertheless trumpeting the report as vindication for the President. However, it’s hardly an exoneration. The Mueller team added a statement that Republicans can expect to be hearing repeatedly from the Democrats, who control the House of Representatives. “Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”
The statement comes across as a wish. It’s like Mr. Mueller is saying, “We were frustrated. You in Congress don’t have to be.”
Mr. Trump was well aware of the crisis he was facing when, in May, 2017, Mr. Mueller was appointed to conduct an investigation. The President exploded in rage, according to the report, telling his Attorney-General, Jeff Sessions, it was “the end of his presidency.”
That would certainly seem to indicate that the President had a motive for obstruction.
Mr. Barr came to the President’s defence by holding a press conference prior to the report’s release. It amounted to an infomercial. As opposed to other cabinet secretaries, attorneys-general are supposed to operate at arm’s length. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently found this out in respect to the SNC-Lavalin scandal.
In Washington, arm’s length is not always the case. John F. Kennedy’s attorney-general was his brother Robert. Here, Mr. Trump seemed to know a little history and had a point. “You’re telling me that Bobby and Jack didn’t talk about investigations?” Mueller investigators record him telling former adviser Stephen Bannon and Mr. McGahn. The report said, “Bannon recalled that the President was as mad as Bannon had ever seen him and that he screamed at McGahn about how weak (then Attorney General Jeff) Sessions was.”
Though the collusion threshold was not crossed, the report makes clear that the Trump campaign was willing to take help from the Russians in defeating Hillary Clinton. Mr. Trump asked publicly for their help in getting Ms. Clinton’s e-mails and, the report reveals, he repeatedly badgered his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was in touch with the Russians, to get them.
After Mr. Barr’s summation last month, the Democrats were hanging their heads. Now, they’re grinning again. There likely isn’t enough incriminatory material in the report for them to mount an impeachment case, and it would be unwise to go to that extreme anyway. But there’s enough to keep Donald Trump on the defensive well into the election year. The Russian controversy has been reignited.