That’s what William Barr said, but it’s not really what Robert Mueller said. Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump’s lead personal attorney, lays out what the debate over obstruction will look like over the next few weeks, few months, few years … basically forever. If Trump didn’t act even within his own authority over an investigation that proved no core crime, how can he have obstructed?
From now on, we will all be either Team Sekulow or Team Stephanopoulos:
— ABC News (@ABC) April 18, 2019
One way in which Trump ended up not obstructing, Mueller wrote, was in his aides’ refusal to follow through on his orders. Page 370:
The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests. Corney did not end the investigation of Flynn, which ultimately resulted in Flynn’s prosecution and conviction for lying to the FBI. McGahn did not tell the Acting Attorney General that the Special Counsel must be removed, but was instead prepared to resign over the President’s order. Lewandowski and Dearborn did not deliver the President’s message to Sessions that he should confine the Russia investigation to future election meddling only. And McGahn refused to recede from his recollections about events surrounding the President’s direction to have the Special Counsel removed, despite the President’s multiple demands that he do so. Consistent with that pattern, the evidence we obtained would not support potential obstruction charges against the President’s aides and associates beyond those already filed.
So which is it? Do we consider the attempts at obstruction evidence of potentially criminal behavior? Or does the fact that Mueller never got impeded, except by individuals who lied to investigators and subsequently prosecuted for it, let Trump off the hook?
The response to that question depends on whether one supports Trump or opposes him. Thanks to the end result of the Mueller probe, it’s not a legal question any longer. It is now a political question, including whether Congress decides to take up impeachment on the basis of this report. That seems highly unlikely, however, because of the implosion of the Russia-collusion myth, which likely has derailed impeachment forever. Democrats raised expectations too high on that count, especially Adam Schiff. Without any evidence that Trump corrupted the election, voters won’t want Congress to overturn it through impeachment. That almost certainly will include even less-committed voters in between the two poles.
And this from my friend John Hinderaker is a point worth considering:
One of the Democrats’ basic problems is that “attempting” to obstruct the investigation doesn’t make a lot of sense. If Trump had really wanted to obstruct the investigation, he could simply have terminated it. And Mueller acknowledges that the administration fully cooperated with the investigation in every way. So the “attempts to obstruct” come down to Trump expressing outrage at the fact that a baseless, partisan investigation was hampering his administration. Arguably Trump should have brought the Mueller farce to an end, but he didn’t.
That’s a reasonable conclusion … if one’s intending to be reasonable. Put it another way: if Trump really wanted to obstruct the investigation, he wouldn’t have tried pushing his aides into doing it for him. He would have done it himself. Especially when it became clear that even his closest aides and advisors knew better than to try it.
Anyway, all of that is moot now. Even the nitty-gritty on obstruction isn’t likely to change minds on Trump, at least not among partisans. He’s a bully? No kidding. He runs off at the mouth when angry and issues threats? Trump has poor impulse control and borderline narcissism? No kidding. Voters already know that Trump’s a crude hardball fighter. It’s why his base loves him, and these “episodes” won’t convince them to rethink that passion.
The collapse of the Russia-collusion hypothesis will exhaust voters with this whole business. Democrats will mine the report for derogatory information to prepare for the 2020 election cycle, but after a few weeks even those will get consigned to the storage attic of politics. Apart from Robert Mueller’s eventual testimony, when interest will spike again, everyone else outside of the media-Beltway bubble will want to return their focus to policy issues. Today’s big bang will be next year’s last flicker, whether it should be or not.
Update: Realized I’d left out “He would have done it himself” in the paragraph after the excerpt from John Hinderaker. I’ve (belatedly) fixed that.