My #MuellerReport take-home message: Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice

The Mueller report is putting a permanent scowl on Donald Trump’s face.

You don’t have to read all 448 pages of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to understand that Donald Trump is guilty as hell. He’s much worse than Richard Nixon ever was.

I confess that I skimmed many pages (lots of blacked-out redacted sections stops the reading flow) of the whole report and looked more at overviews, including those written by the Mueller team itself. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (or are a Trump supporter wearing Fox News blinders), you know that, despite Attorney General William Barr’s pathetic efforts at spinning the report to claim that Trump is innocent, Trump is guilty of obstruction of justice. The original four-page Barr report was pitiful in its brevity and conveniently skipped over any damning material. The news conference where Barr kept repeating “no collusion” was laughable.

There is only one reason that Trump isn’t guilty of criminal conspiracy with Russia: He and his team were just too dumb or too incompetent to make the connections that Russia intelligence kept offering them. Some people who were part of the Trump campaign likely are guilty of criminal conspiracy (Carter Page and George Papadopoulous), but, as any good prosecutor will tell you, you don’t make the charge unless you think you can get a conviction. That’s why Mueller’s ultimate conclusion on that point was to say there wasn’t enough evidence to warrant a charge.

The other mitigating circumstance is that so many people lied or pleaded the Fifth Amendment in their interviews with the Mueller team. You can only work with the information you have. Trump’s lawyers never let him testify under oath, knowing that he would have committed perjury before speaking a full sentence. As it was, his written answers contained more than 30 instances of “I don’t know” and “I can’t remember.” This, from the guy who loves to brag about his brain.

Obstruction of justice is another matter.

You’ve likely been reading stories and hearing talking heads on cable news explain the big takeaways of the report, and about how is is a “blueprint to impeachment” or an “impeachment referral.” Now it’s up to Congress to hold further hearings and do more investigation, issuing subpoenas and forcing people to testify under oath, and holding them in contempt if they refuse. “There is sufficient evidence that President Donald Trump obstructed justice to merit impeachment hearings” is the implication reached in The Atlantic.

In his report, Mueller took pains to detail why he “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment” as to whether the president had broken the law by obstructing justice. He began by noting that he accepted the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) — which issues guidance for the executive branch on questions of law — that a sitting president cannot be indicted. …

A footnote spells out that a criminal investigation could ultimately result in charges being brought either after a president has been removed from office by the process of impeachment or after he has left office.

There are multiple ways to access the report, from multiple news organizations. Many offer a search function, such as this online version from CNN, so readers can look for names (those that aren’t redacted) and specific terms.

I found the most useful shorthand version was this Washington Post timeline. It breaks the report into three easy-to-understand sections on Russian interference, Russian contacts, and obstruction. While we may have heard many of these points in news stories, the constant drip-drip-drip in reporting all of the misdeeds made it easy to overlook or forget something. Reading them all together just makes you say, “Damn. They did THAT?” The timeline is complete with references to news stories that reported the exact same facts that the Mueller report offers.

The extent of the Russian interference is astounding:

  • Russian intelligence services (GRU) started a plan to interfere in the election back in 2013, although it didn’t get really revved up until 2014 and 2015.
  • GRU spent thousands of dollars every month on social media ads on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites targeting voters mainly in swing or “purple” states, just to tip the election.
  • GRU hacked into Democratic National Committee network by sending “spearphishing” emails and released DNC emails through Wikileaks. The most obvious timing was the release immediately after the Access Hollywood tape was released in October 2016, where Trump bragged about grabbing women by the pussy.
  • GRU created hundreds of false Twitter and Facebook accounts to push negative messages about Hillary Clinton. Many of the accounts were specifically aimed at African-American voters to suppress turnout.
  • GRU phony accounts reached more than 100 million people through Facebook alone, no doubt influencing their votes.
  • GRU pushed positive messages about Trump and Bernie Sanders (and later Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who also has been friendly with Russia). The purpose was to try to turn off as many voters as possible to Hillary Clinton.

Here’s one piece from the Washington Post timeline (one of many) that spells out direct involvement between the Trump campaign and Russia. It was this action by Papadopoulous, over too many drinks in London, that started the whole Russia probe in the first place.

George Papadopoulos tells an employee of a foreign government that the Trump campaign had received indications that the Russian government could assist the campaign with leaks of information damaging to Hillary Clinton. That government then contacts the FBI, triggering an investigation.

Papadopoulous pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI and served a short prison sentence. It sounds like he was guilty of much more.

Richard Nixon was an angel compared with Donald Trump. I seriously doubt Nixon knew about the Watergate break-in beforehand — it was a low-level operation (he always referred to it as a “third-rate burglary”). The Nixon team had enough bad apples that they likely thought of the break-in and other nefarious deeds all on their own. Nixon’s crime was covering everything up later.

Trump, on the other hand, was the guy behind many misdeeds in the first place. He also did his best to make up stories or shift the blame to cover them up later.

  • Trump himself was the one who made up the “adoption” story for the June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and others with Russians. As news reports said all along, and team Trump finally admitted, it was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton.
  • It was Trump who tried to get FBI Director James Comey to stop the Russia investigation and to stop any prosecution of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.
  • It was Trump who directed Comey to be fired, not FBI Deputy Director Rod Rosenstein (although he followed Trump’s direction to write a letter, blaming Comey’s “treatment of the Clinton email probe”).
  • Multiple times, Trump directed Mueller to be fired or tried to stop the investigation. Many on his staff refused or just ignored his directions.

If a jury were to find Trump innocent of obstruction of justice, it would only be because every time Trump gave an illegal order (for instance, by firing Robert Mueller), White House officials refused to comply.

The big question looming over Washington is: Should Trump be impeached? There are multiple issues to ponder, especially after Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said that he’s just “not worth impeaching.” Of course, that was before many of the details of the full report came out, and many Democrats are coming around. So consider:

  • The House needs only a majority of members to impeach.
  • Impeachment proceedings would start in the House Judiciary Committee, led by New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, who is already issuing a subpoena for an unredacted version of the full report.
  • Two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote to convict Trump. A Senate with a Republican majority would never do that.
  • Impeaching Trump without removing him from office creates a risk of stirring up his base.
  • Not impeaching Trump will anger many Democrats and could discourage them about the 2020 presidential election (not to mention control of Congress).

There is absolutely no question that Donald Trump deserves to be impeached and removed from office (for more reasons than what is outlined in the Mueller report). Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who read the entire Mueller report on a campaign flight, is the first Democratic presidential candidate to issue such a call, and she has gained many new supporters because of it.

On the campaign trail, however, candidates are finding out that voters are more interested in talking about health care, gun violence, pocketbook issues, climate change, and other matters closer to home. Whatever the House Democrats decide to do about impeachment, next year’s election will depend on one thing: if the ultimate Democratic nominee’s campaign is successful in getting out the vote from the majority of the country that is sick of Donald Trump.

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