Mueller Did His Job. Now It’s Our Turn
(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Americans have not seen the full Mueller report. But we have seen more than enough. The warning I delivered at the 2016 Democratic National Convention — Donald Trump is not fit for office — is now clearer than ever.
Despite the report’s substantial redactions, in many cases because related criminal investigations continue, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s careful and detailed narrative is clear. And all citizens, no matter their party, should be deeply troubled.
The report found that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in “sweeping and systematic fashion” to harm Hillary Clinton’s campaign and to benefit Donald Trump’s. And although Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Russian agents and the Trump campaign, he did establish an appalling pattern of conduct unbefitting an American president.
The Trump campaign devised a communications strategy to exploit Russian sabotage, the report states, and the candidate himself indicated to an aide that he’d been informed of an upcoming leak of stolen information.
After the election, Trump’s associates tried to thwart the special counsel’s probe of the Russian attack. “Several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters,” Mueller reports. “Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference.”
Trump himself refused to be interviewed in person and provided “inadequate” answers to Mueller’s written questions, invoking variations on the statement “I don’t recall” more than 30 times.
The matter of obstruction of justice remains a troubling loose end. Many of the president’s actions, conducted in public, are already familiar: the firing of FBI Director James Comey, the complaints about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself, and so on. But the report also portrays alarming efforts by Trump outside the spotlight to interfere with and even terminate Mueller’s work, including requests that White House aides act to impede the investigation.
In his report, Mueller opens the door for Congress to assert itself, noting that the legislative branch has authority to examine presidential conduct. Congressional committees have already invited Mueller to testify. He should, and in the process clarify what is perhaps the report’s most important passage: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
In addition, Congress should make sure that Mueller’s decision not to press conspiracy charges is not regarded as a legal precedent for future campaign practices. Foreign assistance in campaigns — especially from a hostile power — is expressly forbidden in the U.S. And new legislation is needed to protect American campaigns and voting systems against future attacks.
Some lawmakers will no doubt also consider whether to pursue impeachment. Given the Republican majority in the Senate, such an effort would have no realistic chance of success. It might even improve Trump’s political prospects by advancing the story that he is being harassed by the opposing party.
In any case, impeachment at this point should not be necessary. The American people will soon have an opportunity to render the verdict they see fit — in the 2020 election.
Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York City, is the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News. He is the UN secretary-general’s special envoy for climate action.
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