It was nice to finally hear Robert Mueller’s voice, even though he lards his speech with circumlocutious double negatives. Remember Yoda, the Star Wars wizard? Yoda says stuff like, “When 900 years old you reach, look as good you will not.” Mueller is Yoda with better hair.
Nevertheless, his message to Congress yesterday — once you took a scythe to his verbiage — was nakedly clear:
A hostile foreign power invaded the U.S. electoral process in a systematic bid to elect Donald Trump; the Trump campaign willingly accepted that help with the expectation of benefiting from it; when federal investigators tried to find out what happened, the Trump White House repeatedly and systematically lied about it, and Trump personally engaged in multiple acts of obstruction.
As Mueller stated yesterday (making a mockery of Trump’s “total exoneration” lie), “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” Indeed, he added, “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.” And since he was encumbered by a Justice Department opinion that says a president can’t be indicted (“charging the president with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider”), it is Congress’ duty to determine whether Trump’s conduct warrants impeachment (“the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing”).
None of what Mueller said was new, but saying it on camera — as opposed to a document, which few Americans have bothered to read — puts more pressure on Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats to do what needs to be done. If they truly believe that the Democrats are the rule-of-law party (which it is, thanks to the GOP’s abdication), then they are compelled to prove it.
But alas, they are playing Hamlet. They are wallowing in an “incoherent muddle.” No surprise there. Many in the party are predictably worried about 2020, fearing that House probes and an impeachment inquiry will hurt them in the polls. That’s classic Democratic hand-wringing. Real leaders have the courage to act on their convictions. Real leaders put the opposing party on defense. Real leaders don’t follow public opinion, they shape it.
In the words of political analyst Rick Hasen, an expert on election laws, “No one knows if a fairly done impeachment inquiry will hurt Democrats politically. No one knows if failing to seriously pursue an impeachment inquiry will hurt Democrats more. (Worrying about polls) seems a pure political calculation, which is arguably a dereliction of Congress’ responsibility.”
If a special counsel had investigated a Democratic president and found even a fraction of what Mueller has exposed about Trump — if, for starters, a special counsel had determined that a Democratic president had willingly accepted clandestine election help from a hostile foreign power — do you think that a Republican House would fret about the polls and hesitate to push for impeachment? The GOP would trumpet the scandal as bigger than Benghazi. The GOP would be denouncing the Democratic president as illegitimate.
Many Democrats fret that impeachment will play into Trump’s hands, that he’ll campaign in 2020 as the victim of a lib conspiracy. But here’s some breaking news: He’s going to play the victim anyway, no matter what the House Democrats decide to do. Indeed, if they show weakness by shirking their constitutional duty, he’ll leverage that by declaring himself the winner. He feasts on oppositional weakness.
Much like his Russian comrades, what he truly respects and fears is confrontational strength. Democratic strength is the only way to rattle him. Take a look at what happened earlier today. Clearly rattled by Mueller’s Wednesday remarks, he actually tweeted: “I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.”
Excellent! Regardless of whether it was a Freudian slip or just sloppy wording, he was sufficiently rattled to finally admit that Russia helped him to get elected. His biggest fear all along — and clearly a motivating factor in his coverup — is that he would be viewed as an illegitimate president. Today he helped make the case. And Mueller himself said yesterday that the Russia’s “multiple, systemic” campaign for Trump “deserves the attention of every American.”
So the best course of action is to maximize pressure on Trump — and the House Democrats can do that by moving inexorably toward impeachment as the mountain of evidence warrants. Mueller has passed the torch; the choice is theirs.
To quote the wisdom of Yoda, “Do. Or not do. There is no try.”