There are good reasons to care about getting the Mueller Report released to its intended audience—to the Congress, and thence to the American people.
But we – the American people — don’t need the Mueller Report to know that Trump has obstructed justice.
It is probable that when Congress and we see the Mueller Report, we will find that it points to the conclusion that Donald Trump has committed that crime – obstruction of justice — which we know, from the articles of impeachment brought against Richard Nixon, is an impeachable offense.
But we – the American people – already have been witnesses to more than enough to draw that conclusion, beyond a reasonable doubt.
Between what we’ve seen and heard from Trump himself, publicly, and what we’ve heard from very highly credible witnesses, we know that Trump has been trying continuously, in a myriad of ways, to hinder, stonewall, defeat – in a word, to obstruct – the investigation.
We’ve witnessed, for example, Trump
- Repeatedly calling the investigation a “Witch Hunt,” to discredit an investigation that was protect himself against the rule of law represented by this investigation that was legitimate and important, that threatened him, and that was headed by the man with perhaps America’s greatest reputation for investigative competence and integrity.
- Baselessly attacking America’s main instruments of law enforcement, including trying to ruin the FBI careers of witnesses against him.
- Getting Devin Nunes to serve the White House rather than fulfill the proper role of the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee/
- Using pardons in an unprecedented way. Almost without exception, those Trump has chosen to pardon seem selected as a means to send messages to potential witnesses that they should stay quiet, that they can disobey a court order, or whatever it takes so long as they help protect him. (E.g. the court-defying Sherriff Arpaio; the campaign-finance-law-violating Dinesh d’Souza; and Dick Cheney’s aide Scooter Libby, who lied to federal investigators and obstructed justice.) Trump has turned the pardon power into a means for the head of a criminal gang to send messages to the gang’s members.
- The entirely credible testimony of James Comey – supported by a contemporaneous memorandum and a handful of credible witnesses – that Trump sought to get Comey to drop the investigation into Michael Flynn.
- Trump’s televised statement to Lester Holt that Comey was fired because of the “Russia thing,” which he also told the Russian Foreign Minister and the Russian ambassador in the Oval Office.
- Trump’s public (as well as private) excoriation of his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for having recused himself from that investigation, as required by Justice Department regulations, rather than staying where he could protect the President from the investigation.
- His reliably reported efforts to fire Mueller (blocked only by the White House counsel).
- Calling those who cooperated with federal law enforcement “rats,” while praising those like Manafort who impeded the investigation (even acting as a spy for the Trump team and lying to investigators in violation of his cooperation agreement).
- Appointing Bill Barr, who signaled in his unsolicited memo – a clear job application – that he would protect Trump from obstruction charges if he were Attorney General.
This is just a partial list of countless acts of obstruction that we ourselves have witnessed, and have heard of from entirely credible witnesses.
While each example is a scandal –some of them small, some of them major — all of them assembled together present an unambiguous picture of the President of the United States attempting to defeat this essential effort of the American legal system to hold the President accountable and uphold the rule of law.
Indeed, Trump has been so focused on protecting himself from the legitimate workings of the law, and so creative in coming up with ways to do so, that one would be hard put to come up with what more he could have done to hinder, discredit, defeat –obstruct — this legitimate investigation.
Yes, it would be good to have the Mueller Report, which we can assume does a masterful job of laying out for Congress all the facts relevant to rendering a judgment regarding Trump and the crime of obstruction of justice.
But let’s not forget that we don’t need that masterful presentation to tell us whether or not Trump is guilty of that crime, because ourselves have witnessed it.
And there are compelling reasons why we must regard Trump’s obstruction with the utmost seriousness.
For one thing, there is the historically unprecedented fashion in which Trump has sought to put himself above the law, a pattern of conduct altogether unacceptable in a President under investigation.
Even if this obstruction were the only way Trump has been assaulting the rule of law, it would be enough.
But when we see Trump’s obstruction of justice in the context of the larger pattern of Trump’s manifest contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law, the importance of impeaching this President is greatly compounded.
This broader pattern of Trump’s refusal to respect the limits that our constitutional and legal order imposes on his exercise of power includes:
- Trump’s calling Canada a “national security threat,” an obviously false claim, and clearly an improper application of a federal law, in order to arrogate to himself the proper power of Congress to impose tariffs.
- Trump’s bogus declaration of a “national emergency” to sweep aside Congress’s legitimate power to decide whether to give the President the funding he wants (all for a useless wall).
- And Trump’s current complete stonewalling of the Congress in the exercise of its constitutional role. In its current refusal to give Congress a single requested document or to provide a single requested witness, Trump is refusing to respect the clear constitutional authority of the legislative branch of government to oversee the executive branch. (The latest: refusing to hand over tax returns, despite the law saying unambiguously that any such request from Congress “shall” be provided.)
It’s a matter of checks and balances—an essential component of the constitutional system.
The overwhelming evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice – regarded in the context of all the other manifestations of presidential contempt for the constitutional order — simply must be made the basis of an impeachment.
The United States cannot afford to ignore the dangerous lawlessness of this President.
If we do not act on the basis of what’s been done right in front of our eyes, the U.S. will suffer far greater damage than if Nixon had gotten away with his crimes. For where Nixon was criminal in secret, Trump is committing his misdeeds right in front of our eyes.
When a President’s misdeeds are hidden, they do not erode essential American standards for protecting the Constitution and the rule of law nearly so much as Trump’s unconcealed, blatant assault would do if allowed to stand.
(And this is not even taking into account all the other important ways Trump has shown himself to be a threat to the nation. Nixon, when he wasn’t committing the crimes for which he was about to be impeached, was able otherwise to perform the role of the President to a reasonable degree, by the standards of American history. The same is clearly not true of Donald Trump.)
Yes, let’s get the Mueller Report. But we already know enough to know what needs to happen.