After the Mueller Report, Trump’s Fate Lies with Voters
There are incidents sprinkled throughout the special counsel’s report in which President Trump’s behavior is clearly unethical, if not conclusively illegal. Some of them are already public, such as Trump’s request that the F.B.I. director at the time, James Comey, halt the Bureau’s investigation of Michael Flynn. Others have not been disclosed before. In the summer of 2017, for example, the President directed his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to relay an order to Jeff Sessions, who was then the Attorney General, to limit the scope of Mueller’s probe. Lewandowski declined to deliver the message; in fact, Mueller describes several instances in which Trump’s aides ignored his urgings to interfere in the investigation. “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful,” the report states, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”
The report shows a President manipulating aides, bullying officials, lying to the public, and ceaselessly maneuvering for advantage. In certain cases, Trump staffers, whether to protect the campaign, the White House, or themselves, appear to have acted far more ethically than the President, who made repeated attempts to skirt the law. But, as David Kris, a former senior Justice Department lawyer, told me, the standard of evidence that Robert Mueller and his team applied in their investigation was criminal conduct that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. While the President’s actions apparently failed to meet that high bar, he said, the instances in the report of the President trying to limit Mueller’s investigation and making false statements to the public could taint him politically. “One of the things that comes across is just the incredible extent of the misconduct here, even if it falls short of a finding of criminality,” Kris, who now runs the consulting firm Culper Partners, said. “The report, in the end, may prove to be quite damning.”
More immediately, though, the Mueller report appears simply to have reinforced a core dynamic of the Trump Presidency. Representative Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, vowed that Congress would continue to investigate Trump. “The Mueller report outlines substantial evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” he said. “The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the President responsible for his actions.” House Republicans, meanwhile, acted as though they had been fully vindicated by the report’s findings. “This sad chapter of American history is behind us,” Representative Jim Jordan, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, wrote in a statement. “It would be a shame for the onslaught of misguided politicized investigations to continue.” The Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, was more circumspect. He praised Mueller, Attorney General William Barr, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “This investigation could not have been handled in a better way,” he said.
The President, who was shown by the report to have acted improperly, made false public statements and pressured aides to engage in misconduct, declared himself the exonerated victim of a nearly two-year witch hunt, tweeting “As I have been saying all along, NO COLLUSION – NO OBSTRUCTION!” His Republican supporters in Congress expressed renewed support, with Representative Steve Scalise saying that Democrats “ought to apologize to the American people.” Some Democrats may say that the report’s details reveal Trump’s unfitness for office and call for his impeachment. Yet, with no finding of criminality, Republicans will never allow it. Donald Trump’s fortunes will most likely be decided in the voting booth. The ultimate question is whether the electorate will hold him accountable.