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The Mueller Report Is a Roadmap for Congressional Investigation

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It’s there in black and white, in Volume II on page 90 of special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report: “The president sought to use his official powers to remove the special counsel.”

The report’s 400 pages are awash in detailed accounts of Donald Trump’s “targeted efforts to the control the investigation” and exercise of “undue influence,” ranging from “repeated efforts” behind closed doors to persuade then–White House counsel Don McGahn and aide Corey Lewandowski to perjure themselves, to the president’s all-too-public firing of James Comey and humiliation of Jeff Sessions. It is clear, too, that the president knew these manipulations could spell legal and political trouble—“I’m fucked,” he said—and responded to that guilty knowledge with an attempted cover-up. And while he provided written answers to many (though not all) of Mueller’s Russia questions, the report pointedly notes that he declined to provide any testimony in the obstruction inquiry.

Despite the best attempts at distraction and dissembling by Attorney General Barr during his pre-release presser, we now know that Mueller’s team concluded that many of the president’s actions could satisfy ordinary legal standards for obstruction of justice. In sharp contrast to Barr’s portrayal of a diffident special counsel, the report’s executive summary reveals that Mueller ultimately stepped aside from a charging decision for only one overriding reason: The Justice Department’s longstanding supposition that a sitting president can’t be indicted. Mueller, ever a careful institution man, was going to honor policy and precedent even amid an unprecedented and policy-upending presidential scandal. But that didn’t mean he expected the attorney general to declare President Trump off the hook.

In fact, far from calling for the investigation to end, Mueller makes a sharp nod to the constitutional role of Congress “to prosecute presidential misconduct.” Far from exonerating the president, as Barr suggested, the Mueller report—even with redactions—is virtually a roadmap for congressional investigation, up to and including impeachment. Its section heads alone are like scene treatments for a mob movie: “The President Asks Corey Lewandowski to Deliver A Message.” “The President Orders Priebus to Demand Sessions’ Resignation.” “The President Orders McGahn to Deny That the President Tried to Fire the Special Counsel. 

The Donald Trump of this report is engaged in nonstop, frantic efforts to control an investigation he believes threatens the foundations of his presidency. The special counsel’s inquiry survived, the report notes, only because key officials “declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.” (Even sycophantic courtiers like Lewandowski and Sessions, it turns out, had their limits—or at least an acute understanding that unlike the president, they could be indicted for obstruction if they followed his orders.)

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