When President Donald Trump heard a special counsel had been appointed to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election, he groaned, “This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency,” according to special counsel Robert Mueller's report.
Hours after the report was released Thursday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway reveled in Mueller's findings into Russian interference in the 2016 election and whether the White House obstructed the probe, calling the event the "best day" since Trump's election, The Hillreported.
"I called this a political proctology exam," Conway said of the report, claiming Trump had received a "clean bill of health."
But other observers are saying Mueller's 448-page diagnosis charts the path for Congress to begin its examination of Trump.
Under the attention-grabbing headline, “The Mueller Report Is an Impeachment Referral,” The Atlantic’s senior editor Yoni Appelbaum wrote that Mueller’s explanation of why it would be unfair for the special counsel to recommend indicting Trump for obstruction of justice doubled as an invitation for Congress to take up the case.
Appelbaum quoted Mueller concluding that alleging a sitting president committed a crime would preempt the “constitutional processes for addressing presidential misconduct.” The senior editor then let readers know what that process is:
“The constitutional process for addressing presidential misconduct is impeachment.”
Appelbaum was joined by other writers who honed in on 10 instances of possible obstruction that Mueller’s team examined to determine if Trump criminally interfered with the special counsel’s investigation.
And despite Trump’s claim that the report clears him, Mueller wrote the only reason the president didn’t succeed in side-tracking the investigation was because his subordinates didn’t follow through.
“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. These actions ranged from efforts to remove the Special Counsel and to reverse the effect of the Attorney General’s recusal; to the attempted use of official power to limit the scope of the investigation; to direct and indirect contacts with witnesses with the potential to influence their testimony. ...
“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.”
Even conservative commentators described Trump’s behavior as “embarrassing,” “immoral” and “damaging.”
Fox Newsanalyzed the reaction of conservative author Ben Shapiro, who tweeted that Trump’s actions followed a pattern that occurs when scandal breaks out around the president: embarrassing and immoral behavior begets more of the same.
"Every Trump scandal follows this pattern," Shapiro tweeted. "It holds just as true for Stormy Daniels as it does for Russia and obstruction."
Washington Post opinion writers Paul Waldman and Greg Sargent described nine instances of misconduct Mueller examined, and the pair concluded:
“Taken all together, that’s a clear message from Mueller to Congress and the public. Barr may not prosecute Trump; indeed, his intent to protect the president is why he’s attorney general today. But Congress can still conclude that the multitudinous acts of obstruction the report lays out provide more than ample reason to take action. It’s just a matter of deciding to do it.”
Noah Bookbinder, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, chimed in for TheNew York Times that only Congress has the power to remove a president, and Mueller gave it plenty of ammunition to consider.
“Congress, a co-equal branch of government, is also well suited to consider whether exercise of a president’s constitutional powers — including firing or directing subordinates for the purpose of impeding an investigation — amounts to obstruction of justice under the Constitution. The fact that Mr. Mueller explicitly did not resolve whether the president engaged in criminal conduct only reinforces the need for Congress to consider whether Mr. Trump violated his constitutional obligations to the American people.”
But while House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., says Congress must now hold the president accountable for his actions in the Russian probe, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has no appetite for impeachment proceedings, unless there is something so egregious that Republicans would also support removal of Trump.
"I’m not for impeachment," Pelosi said in a Washington Post interview published March 11. "Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it."
According to Fox News contributor Karl Rove, that’s wise counsel that Democratic candidates should follow in the 2020 elections.
"I wouldn't be surprised in the next week or two — yeah, you're going to have the hot dogs and the lunatics and the wannabes like (Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.) say 'by God, impeach,'" Rove told Fox.
"He added that politicians like 2020 candidate and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would back away from 'trashing Trump' and recognize it as a losing strategy,” Fox reported.
Rove said Republicans made that mistake in 1998, voting to impeach President Bill Clinton over lying about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
A New York Times report on how Democrats are responding to the Mueller report says Democrats "will try to finesse the matter. They will push for the evidence underlying the report and demand that Mr. Mueller and others central to his inquiry appear on Capitol Hill while stopping short of any impeachment discussion. That strategy has the advantage of keeping the inquiry and Mr. Trump’s conduct in the spotlight without getting into the charged impeachment talk. But Republicans will do whatever they can to portray Democrats as overreaching and maliciously harassing Mr. Trump out of political spite, riling up Republican voters in the process."
A Brookings Institution analysis of poll results found voters have been consistent in their opposition to impeachment of the president. A CNN poll in March found that support for impeachment had dropped to 36% of Americans.36 comments on this story
"The decline — from 43% in favor in December to 36% now — stems largely from a change in Democratic views on impeaching the President. In December, 80% of self-identified Democrats said they were in favor of impeachment — that now stands at 68%, a 12-point dip,” CNN reported. “Among independents and Republicans, support for impeachment has fallen 3 points over the same time.”
Democrats and Republicans agree that voters should decide whether to give Trump a second term, but it’s too early to know what impact the Mueller report and subsequent congressional investigations will have on the 2020 election.