Bob Mueller has dropped over 400 pages of dense legalise for us to read over the Easter weekend. The naïve hope remains that this report can get the West reading again. However, it would probably be a poor fit to be this generation’s Harry Potter moment—after all, detailed accounts of Russian golden showers are included in the required reading list this time. Regardless, I am sure we all eagerly await the paperback on Amazon.
Now that we are out of the woods of this seemingly endless investigation, has this report really altered the calculus for the presidency of Donald Trump? The polls remain as mysteriously flat as they have always been for this administration. But if we are looking at this at a shot fired at President Trump, there is no question that it missed its mark.
The Democrats have been chasing this Trump-Russia scandal in the hope that it would eventually trace a path for impeachment—or at least the complete disgracing of the President. This is an obvious strategy for them to take on its face. The Democrats have little to gain by spending their political capital on the investigation for its own sake if they’re not going to pursue legal consequences for the President. The investigation remains significantly less important to voters than conventional partisan policy issues.
In order to take down Trump, the Democrats needed this report to hit him head-on, and hit him hard. By that metric, it has clearly been an underwhelming result. By all reasonable estimates, the eventual Democratic nominee for the 2020 election will have fully divorced themselves from this saga by the time the general contest is playing out. And for good reason. Several episodes in this investigation are of the variety that Democrats should only be bold enough to recount if they wish to be embarrassed.
But there is something to be gained on the other end of this ordeal. The Democrats didn’t get the articles of impeachment they wanted so badly, but this report still issues a startingly fact-based indictment of the Presidential efficacy and moral character of Donald Trump. And this is how the report can instead guide Democrats towards Trump’s defeat at the ballot box.
The report lays out in excruciating detail facts such as the repeated detail that President Trump demanded oaths of personal loyalty of his staff in the Executive—not merely oaths to the office and Constitution of the United States. Trump acted to intentionally undermine the independence of the Department of Justice in order to bully its top officials into playing defence for him personally. Most concerningly in his repeated antagonism towards Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein whenever they prioritised the due process of legal investigations. This included newly uncovered attempts by the President to undermine Sessions by pressuring him via third-party intermediaries such as Corey Lewandowski.
It is also confirmed that the President ordered public servants to lie on his behalf. He directed Deputy National Security Advisor K.T. McFarland to draft a letter exonerating the President of involvement with the scandalised Michael Flynn. McFarland had no knowledge of their relationship and would have been basing this letter on nothing but the President’s word. This was, as far as she knew, a direction to lie on President Trump’s behalf.
The President also directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to cover-up and lie about Trump’s attempts to forcibly close the investigation. President Trump additionally directed intelligence agencies to publicly undermine the investigation into Russia by pre-emptively declaring the President’s innocence without evidence. This request eventually led to the infamous firing of F.B.I. director James Comey.
Trump’s defenders will correctly highlight that these facts do not constitute the criminal obstruction of justice that Democrats clearly hope for. This is true. It is also true that Trump’s behaviour represents a pattern of elevation of his personal interests over the Executive offices of the United States’ government which carries over into all aspects of his administration. He has repeatedly attempted to undermine the independence of the Federal Reserve by pressuring the board to shift monetary policy. And the President is now attempting to stack the board with personal lackies in order to facilitate this shift in policy.
There is an abundance of issues that will inevitably come into focus over the course of the upcoming campaign for President in 2020. And the Democrats are correct to shift towards a policy-oriented strategy. Mueller’s report will likely represent the end of an epoch of scandal for this administration and open the curtain on election season instead. However, the report also verifies a pattern of behaviour which clarifies one of the many reasons that a continued Donald Trump Presidency is undesirable for those who hope for a transparent and ethical government.
If one single fact is clarified by reading the Mueller report, it is that accountable institutions are an instinctive source of anathema to the character of President Trump. One that he will root out at every available opportunity. And as a result, the challenge this administration places on the modern age is the realisation that we must necessarily grapple with the fact that accountable institutions are essential if we are to maintain freedom as a society.