Friday, April 19, 2019

The founding fathers designed impeachment for a man without virtue

The first part of this post is a summary of key takeaway points from the Mueller report. Then I turn to the question of whether Trump should be impeached.

The Mueller Report Is 448 Pages Long. You Need to Know These 7 Key Things by Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman of the NY Times. I’m going to make it even shorter by selecting examples supporting those key things.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, produced a report of more than 400 pages that painted a deeply unflattering picture of President Trump but stopped short of accusing him of criminal wrongdoing. Here are seven takeaways.

(1) Trump did try to sabotage the investigation. His staff defied him.

When Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Mr. Trump that a special counsel had been appointed in May 2017, Mr. Trump grew angry: “I’m fucked,” he said, believing his presidency was ruined. He told Mr. Sessions, “This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Mr. Trump began trying to get rid of Mr. Mueller, only to be thwarted by his staff. In instance after instance, his staff acted as a bulwark against Mr. Trump’s most destructive impulses. In June 2017, the president instructed Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, to remove Mr. Mueller, but Mr. McGahn resisted. Rather than carry out the president’s order, he decided he would rather resign.

(2) So many lies. So many changed stories.

One of the unanswered questions of the past two years — which helped fuel the F.B.I. investigation, congressional inquiries and journalistic scrutiny — is why so many people lied, changed their stories and issued misleading statements to both the public and federal authorities.

The report recaps one false statement after another. …

(3) Fake news? Not so much.

The president has spent the past two years denouncing the news media. He has repeatedly accused reporters of making up sources to destroy his presidency. The report, though, shows not only that some of the most unflattering stories about Mr. Trump were accurate, but also that White House officials knew that was the case even as they heaped criticism on journalists.

(4) No obstruction? Not so fast.

Mr. Trump was quick to declare the report a total vindication.

But federal authorities went out of their way not to exonerate Mr. Trump.

Here I depart from the NY Times and present the text of the report’s conclusion from p. 182 of volume 2.

Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgement. At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

(5) Evading an F.B.I. interview proved a successful strategy.

Mr. Trump repeatedly said he was eager to sit for an interview with Mr. Mueller’s team, despite his lawyers’ insistence that doing so would be a terrible idea.

The report makes clear why his lawyers were so worried about it. Mr. Mueller had a huge cache of unanswered questions, misleading and conflicting statements, and unexplained actions with which to confront the president. Sitting for an interview, the report makes clear, would have exposed Mr. Trump to far more problems.

(6) No conclusive evidence of conspiracy, but lots of reason to investigate.

Mr. Mueller makes explicit what Mr. Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on: Russia secretly manipulated the 2016 presidential election.

The investigation ultimately found no evidence that anyone from Mr. Trump’s campaign participated in that effort, but the report reveals in stark detail the many suspicious interactions that had the F.B.I. so worried. Many of those have been reported, but the report amounts to a compendium that helps explain the origins of the F.B.I. investigation, known as “Crossfire Hurricane.”

(7) Imagine reading this report cold.

Prosecutors describe a president who was preoccupied with ending a federal investigation, a White House that repeatedly told misleading and changing stories, and a presidential campaign that was in repeated contact with Russian officials for reasons that are not always clear.

Even though prosecutors concluded that didn’t amount to provably criminal conduct, the report is astounding in its sweep. Yet it is also a reminder of how much the public has learned over the past two years about Mr. Trump’s conduct.

If the American public or members of Congress were learning these things for the first time, the political fallout would normally be devastating. The consequences of the report remain to be seen, but if people are not surprised or shocked by the revelations, then Mr. Trump may have benefited by the steady drip of news stories he has so loudly criticized.

A damning portrait of a crooked president.

You don’t have to commit a crime, in the strictly legal sense, to be a crook, in the moral sense.

So, Mueller paints a damning portrait of the president is the summary by AP Washington Bureau Chief Julie Pace in this morning’s Daily Star. In brief:

To Donald Trump, the start of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation looked alarmingly like the end of his presidency. So he tried to stop it.

His months-long effort pushed the boundaries of presidential powers and the law, revealing a commander in chief consumed by self-interest and intent on having his top lieutenants lie or obfuscate on his behalf.

The fact that many refused to do so may have helped save Trump from being charged with obstructing justice.

Arguments for and against impeachment

Spoiler alert: I am not going to answer that for you. If you’ve gotten this far, I hope that you will agree that Trump deserves to be impeached and removed from office. It’s the right thing for Congress to do. However, there is a practical political counter argument. There is no real chance that the Republican Senators would do anything except vote for themselves and their party. So Trump would benefit from that selfish support. So should he be impeached?

Yes: Impeachment should be a no-brainer, no matter what the Mueller report says argues Jeffrey Engel (director of Southern Methodist University’s Center for Presidential History and co-author of “Impeachment: An American History.”). Engel says “Trump has none of the traits the founders thought essential for presidents.” Here are just a few snippets that Engel presents in support.

The Constitution’s authors wouldn’t have needed any summary of the special counsel’s report to know it was time to impeach the president. Neither would they have waited to see whether its full text provided evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The group that created our nation’s founding document would already have judged Donald Trump unfit for office — and removed him — because he’s repeatedly shown a dearth of the quality they considered paramount in a president: a willingness to put national interest above his own.

[A] willingness to put country before self is why [George] Washington’s presence lent legitimacy to the controversial convention, why delegates immediately voted him the presiding chair and why they ultimately designed the presidency with him in mind. Put simply, they trusted him and knew he would put America first.

Not every president would. “The first man put at the helm will be a good one,” Pennsylvania’s Benjamin Franklin assured the convention, probably nodding in Washington’s direction as he spoke. “Nobody knows what sort may come afterwards.”

So delegates designed a mechanism for removing a dangerous president, one who did what Washington never would: impeachment for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

That pesky phrase, “high crimes and misdemeanors” has befuddled Americans ever since. It shouldn’t. The Constitution’s authors understood that impeachable treachery need not, in fact, be a literal crime at all, but rather a demonstration that a president’s presence harmed the body politic, the people, either through maliciousness or selfishness.

That the [Mount Vernon] property is not called the Washington Plantation is all you need to know about our nation’s first president. If today’s leaders wish to hold fast to the ideals of the Founding Fathers, to genuinely “protect and defend the Constitution,” as they have all sworn, they would do well to practice a bit of virtue, too, and do their duty to remove a selfish man from its highest post, no matter the personal or political cost. The men who chose Washington would have. Mount Vernon’s owner would have, too.

No: Moving to impeach Trump would only make him stronger argues Scott Martelle of the Los Angeles Times in this morning’s Daily Star.

As we all devour the two-volume, 448-page redacted Mueller report, we’d do well to keep in mind a political reality. In a more stable and responsible political climate, impeachment proceedings would have begun months ago when it became abundantly clear that President Trump was trying to influence the investigation into himself, his inner circle and his campaign.

That was an unmistakable attempt to abuse power to try to protect the president’s own interests, and it should not have been tolerated.

But we don’t live in that environment. And as damning as the report is, particularly the details about Trump’s willingness to accept the benefits of Russian hacking of emails and his efforts to obstruct special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, moving to impeach Trump now would only make him stronger.

Why? … Because the best and surest way to hold him accountable over his efforts to obstruct justice is to oust him in 2020. And Trump’s likely survival of an impeachment trial — Senate Republicans have made it clear they’re happy to give him cover for just about anything for the sake of the party — would give him a gift.

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