Last week was a good week for Donald J. Trump. Not only has his Mexican border wall been allocated $1 billion of funding, but the long-awaited Mueller report did not, by all accounts, uncover a smoking gun.
Unsurprisingly, the president took to Twitter to share his glee at what he perceives as a vindication. One of his many tweets reads “No collusion. No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
For his supporters, this was sufficient. The Mueller investigation was finally called as they saw it – a Democrat-fueled witch hunt, backed by the fake news media. Clearly, this win for the president puts him on a firmer footing for the 2020 election race.
On closer inspection, the “complete and total exoneration” was not quite that. In his four-page summary of the report, Attorney General William Barr wrote: “The special counsel did not find that any U.S. person or Trump campaign official conspired or knowingly coordinated with Russia.”
The report stated that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” As is the way in this politically polarized nation, observers may choose their own truth. Hence the matter is not as settled as the president and his base may wish.
What is abundantly clear is that despite the inevitable disappointment felt by those pinning their impeachment hopes on Mueller’s findings, the outcome should be a relief to all Americans.
There is no doubt that Donald Trump is a controversial and, for half the country, a deeply unpopular president. There is also no doubt that impeachment is a nuclear option and should never, ever be utilized as a political weapon.
Presidential impeachment proceedings have occurred twice in the nation’s history, once in 1868 against Andrew Johnson and then 130 years later against Bill Clinton. It should be applied only as a method of last resort when the high crimes and misdemeanors of the president are as undisputed as they are grave. Had there knowingly been collusion between Team Trump and a hostile foreign power, then they would have very likely met the required seriousness for impeachment.
Trump Should be Grateful to Mueller
Anyone old enough to recall the toxic political environment in which the Clinton impeachment proceedings took place would hardly wish that on their country a second time in twenty years. Hence, President Trump should be deeply grateful to Robert Mueller for how he has conducted himself and his investigation over the past two years. Described by the Washington Post as a “real-life Atticus Finch,” the Vietnam War veteran has remained sphinxlike throughout.
The last time a special prosecutor was held in such regard may have been Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. In the early 1970s, when the nation seemed to be spinning off its political axis, the Watergate investigator was a steady, trust-worthy presence, viewed by many as an American hero. As with Mueller, his probe was considered by some to be overzealous and partisan.
Somehow, despite being led by a lifelong registered Republican and former FBI Director, the Mueller investigation still received accusations of partisanship, most notably from the president himself. It is an inevitable aspect of carrying out this role, and yet, with the possible exception of Kenneth Starr in the 1990s, these accusations do not stand up to scrutiny.
Special Prosecutors (or Independent Counsel as they were temporarily known) tend to be chosen for their experience, wisdom, and most importantly, their integrity. Since Watergate, the office has played a unique role in the nation’s political life.
Each time an individual is appointed to investigate a matter of potentially grave concern to the nation, their own character and ability to speak truth to power is crucial.
Robert Mueller, like his predecessors, clearly has a deep respect for the office of the presidency, and has conducted his task with prudence. It is clear that President Trump does not hold the office of the Special Prosecutor in high esteem, or acknowledge its role as guardian of the rule of law.
The New York Times kept a tally of the president’s attacks on the individual appointed by the Deputy Attorney General to carry out the most serious of public services. Over the two years, it noted 1,100 presidential criticisms of Mueller and the investigation, rising notably during the final six months.
After a two year wait, all that is available is Attorney General Barr’s four-page summary of the report. Hence, the partisan speculation about what it actually contained will surely grow, as so many questions remain unanswered.
After the report was released, the president’s approval ratings remained steady, highlighting the fact that his base supports him unconditionally. He should be grateful for the lack of a smoking gun uncovered by Mueller. Instead, at a rally in Grand Rapids, Michigan on Thursday night, he again claimed “total exoneration” and dismissed the investigation as “the single greatest hoax in the history of politics.”
Meanwhile, federal and Congressional investigations into alleged financial irregularities by the Trump campaign and inauguration teams are ongoing. With less than a year to go until the 2020 campaign gets underway, the incumbent needs to broaden his appeal if he is to be re-elected. The outcome of these pending investigations may yet undermine his chances.Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of The Globe Post.