For President Trump’s enemies, the salient and exploitable feature of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released on Thursday, was Mr. Trump’s attempts to interfere with an investigation that his own government was conducting.
The problem was the government was investigating Mr. Trump.
The president succumbed, you could say, to that all-too-human tendency to resist being investigated by people you don’t control. Or, in the Democrats’ version, he tried to cover up what they insist were his crimes. And he did so more than once in his first 25 months in office, according to Mr. Mueller and his investigative team.
At one point, Mr. Trump told then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mr. Mueller.
Mr. McGahn — a rule-of-law man first, last and always — said he’d quit before he’d pull an obstruction-of-justice stunt like that.
The chastened (or distracted) president stood down but later asked Mr. McGahn to label as fake news all the press reports that Mr. Trump had sought Mr. Mueller’s firing.
Again, the White House counsel refused the president’s order, again saving the president’s bacon on what would have been a pretty clear act of presidential obstruction.
Clear enough that, if Mr. McGahn had done the deed, he would have made it hard for House Democratic leadership to continue saying “no” to heavy-breathing impeachers in the party.
The Mueller report recounted other instances of rebellion in the administration ranks, such as the time Mr. Trump turned to his long-time friend and adviser Corey Lewandowski.
Mr. Trump gave him a written order to be delivered to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The order was for Mr. Session to publicly announce a limit to the scope of the special counsel’s investigation.
Mr. Lewandowski delivered the message to Mr. Sessions’ chief of staff, Rick Dearborn, who however rolled his eyes and deep-sixed it.
Underling recalcitrance again saved the president from himself and from giving the Democrats a better climate for impeachment.
Pounding the impeachment drum is something House Speaker Nancy Pelosi opposes, especially just after the no-collusion finding in Mr. Mueller’s report — a huge disappointment to Democrats and never-Trump Republicans.
Mrs. Pelosi wisely fears impeach talks will put sour faces on enough independents and undecideds in November 2020 to give the House back to the Republicans and ensure Mr. Trump four more years.
She wants to wait till her fellow Democrats and allies in the press make impeachment a really popular cause.
The likeliest way there is for Democrats to pound away at the idea that Mr. Trump did try to obstruct justice but couldn’t pull it off, thanks to rebellious underlings.
“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,” Mr. Mueller wrote in his report to acting Attorney General William P. Barr. “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,” Mr. Mueller wrote.
Those three words of Mr. Mueller’s — “… does not exonerate” — are music to Democrats’ ears but were meant for the attorney general’s eyes, not the eyes of Congress, the press or the public.
The only findings of a special counsel that should be made public are recommendations for prosecution.
Under no legal compulsion to release the report, Mr. Barr, it can be argued, fell into a trap set by Democrats who said only the release would satisfy the legitimate demands of transparency
Or maybe Mr. Barr was right in figuring release, with very little redaction, was the only way to keep Democrats from making real hay out of a report that failed to find the presidential treason that Mrs. Pelosi’s party promised — and expected — would be in Mr. Mueller’s investigative opus.
After all, he had hired a van full of big-deal Democratic lawyers who also happened to have been Hillary Clinton-campaign donors. Reason enough to make a Republican president tweet his mornings away on the unfairness of it all.
Not to worry. There are 564 days left before the Nov. 3, 2020, elections. Plenty of time for Republicans to turn the dubious Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrants into the Democrat-flattening scandal of the 2019-2020 election cycle.
The FISA warrants, granted to the FBI, were simply unverified opposition research commissioned by Mrs. Clinton’s campaign.
The warrants made it possible for the government to spy on — and investigate the living daylights out of — the Trump campaign in the first place.
And they are what drive Mr. Trump’s restless fingers to tap out ‘f-a-k-e” with every other breath he takes.
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