Op-Ed: Trump is Not in the End Zone Yet by Steve Parks

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Sunday was arguably the best day in the presidency of Donald Trump. But “spiking the football,” as he and his supporters did after Attorney General William Barr released a barebones summary of the Mueller report’s conclusions, is premature. Especially since Donald isn’t in the endzone yet. It might be a fumble instead.

Sure, the president is the apparent winner in special counsel Robert Mueller’s twin conclusions of “no conspiracy” with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and, on obstruction of justice, neither vindication nor exoneration. But Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein swiftly cleared Trump of obstruction, too. Outside of Barr, Rosenstein and Mueller’s team, no one knows what’s in the report outside of a few quoted sentence fragments contained in Barr’s three-page letter—four if you count the names of the letter’s recipients.

While Sunday was a bad day for Democrats who expected Mueller to buoy a possible impeachment case, the real winner may be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who warned her party about the I-word absent “compelling” evidence against the president.

Still, Democrats and, for that matter, Republicans should insist that the Mueller report be released to Congress and the public expeditiously. Barr can be commended for releasing his summary just 48 hours after Mueller submitted his report. But that could also be interpreted as a rush to public-opinion judgment. Watch Trump’s poll numbers climb to or past 50 percent for the first time in his presidency before the Mueller report can be fully digested.

We should never lose sight of the fact that the 22-month investigation resulting in seven convictions and 27 indictments demands more exposure than a cursory summation by political appointees of a subject, if not target, of the investigation. There’s no question that Russians conspired, at least among themselves and Wikileaks’ Julian Assange, to tip the election in Trump’s favor. The only question, negated in Mueller’s judgment, is whether the campaign did more than accept help by foreign bad actors without explicit complicity. Wink-winks are hard to prove in counterintelligence investigations. Meanwhile, a judge could rule that even grand jury evidence may be made public in extraordinary circumstances. Besides grand jury testimony, the only excuse for suppressing parts of the report would be protecting intelligence sources and methods.

As for obstructing justice, a much closer call according to what little we know of Mueller’s report, everything should be on the table. Mueller possibly declined to recommend prosecution because of a Justice Department memo suggesting that a sitting president cannot be indicted. (Barr wrote a 19-page audition to that effect before Trump appointed him.) Another reason may be Trump’s refusal to be interviewed by Mueller, crippling the special counsel’s ability to assess possible criminal intent, for instance, in firing FBI director James Comey. Was it to shut down the Russian investigation, as the president himself admitted on national TV?

To pursue impeachment at this point is a fool’s errand likely playing into Trump’s re-election strategy. Democrats should be mindful of voters’ investigative fatigue. The best path is for appropriate House committees to obtain, hopefully voluntarily, the bulk of Mueller’s report and hold public hearings on its content. Impeachment should not be the goal. It would be futile with a Republican Senate majority that would defeat conviction and removal from office.

Better to concentrate on issues most Democratic presidential candidates emphasize: health care (not necessarily immediate Medicare for All), soaring prescription costs, making college education affordable, recognizing climate change as an existential threat to life on Earth and, yes, immigration reform—even if all such initiatives are thwarted by GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell.

  Democrats—and Republicans principled enough to defy Trump—should also pay attention to his latest outrages. On the very day it was announced the Mueller report would be released, a story that might have dominated the news was buried by rampant speculation. By Tweet, Trump overruled Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who had announced expanded sanctions against North Korea. The president disregarded aerial surveillance revealing North Korea’s renewed activity at long-range missile sites hours after his failed summit with dictator Kim Jong-un. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited his reasoning thusly: “President Trump likes Chairman Kim.”

Does that make you feel safer? No, it’s another Trump fumble.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.

 

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