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The national debate over Donald Trump’s presidency is slowly shifting from legal questions to political considerations following special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year probe into Russian election interference.
Mueller found no evidence that Trump colluded with Moscow to influence the 2016 presidential election, according to Attorney General Robert Barr’s four-page summary of the Mueller report. The letter to congressional judiciary committee chairs landed with a thud on Sunday and sent the political spin cycle into overdrive.
Trump supporters cheered the Mueller report as vindication for a long-pilloried president, while critics seized on Mueller’s conclusion that the probe didn’t exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice claims. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, however, determined there were no grounds to pursue a criminal charge for obstruction.
“Generally speaking, to obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person, acting with corrupt intent, engaged in obstructive conduct with a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding,” Barr wrote in his letter and summary. “In cataloguing the president’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
In layman’s terms, that essentially means Trump can’t be prosecuted for trying to cover up a crime if there was no underlying crime to cover up.
The full contents of the Mueller report should be made public without delay. It’s essential to citizens’ confidence in their government that all Americans have the opportunity to read the special counsel’s words, weigh the evidence he gathered and satisfy themselves that no stone was left unturned.
While some may withhold judgment until they’ve read the full text for themselves, the writing is already on the wall. President Trump did not collude with Russia. There was no nefarious plot to propel him into office. American voters chose him to lead, and they’ll have a chance to weigh in on his performance in November 2020.
Too many pundits, reporters and Trump opponents have accepted claims of Russian collusion uncritically. In light of the Mueller report and its voluminous evidence, they must retreat from that shaky ground lest they risk their own credibility.
In the latest chapter of his serial installment book “Hate, Inc.: How and Why the Press Makes Us Hate One Another,” investigative journalist Matt Taibbi compares widespread repetition of collusion claims to the debunked assertion that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.
“A lot of #Russiagate coverage became straight-up conspiracy theory, what (New York Times reporter Peter) Baker politely called ‘connecting the dots,’” Taibbi wrote. “This was allowed because the press committed to a collusion narrative from the start, giving everyone cover to indulge in behaviors that would never be permitted in normal times.”
A Rolling Stone columnist and well-known progressive, Taibbi is no Trump fan. The title of his 2017 book, “Insane Clown President,” ought to provide a clue. But Taibbi has managed to constrain his criticism to Trump’s politics while avoiding calls for impeachment or indictment due to collusion that didn’t happen.
“Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population, a group that (perhaps thanks to this story) is now larger than his original base,” Taibbi wrote, predicting Russiagate will worsen the mainstream media’s already considerable trust and credibility problems.
From all indications so far, the Mueller report is a victory for Trump. Like him or not, he is the United States’ legitimately elected president. He’s no Russian spy or double agent.
Critics and challengers would do well to accept the special counsel’s conclusions and focus their firepower on substantive political differences between Trump and his opponents rather than discredited collusion conspiracies.
American voters, not Russian spies or Facebook trolls, catapulted Trump into office in a historic rejection of the political establishment. Those voters will have a choice to make in 2020, and they deserve a campaign focused on genuine kitchen-table issues — not fevered fantasies about phantom Russian collusion.