Spearhead Analysis – 26.04.2019
By Syed Murtaza Zaidi
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research
It has been two years in the making but the Muller report is finally here. Special Counsel Robert Muller, the former FBI Director and lawyer selected to probe allegations of collusion within the Trump campaign and the Russian government during the 2016 elections, finally handed in his much awaited report to the Department of Justice on 22 March. While the question of Russian collusion was the initial focus of the report, due to the evident attempts by the White House to influence the investigation, a charge of Obstruction of Justice was also added to the scope of the inquiry.
As a Special Counsel for the Department of Justice, Muller initially submitted his final report to Attorney General William Barr. Barr, who was appointed to his position after Trump fired his predecessor Jeff Sessions in November of last year, promised to release the report in full, once his office had studied it in detail and redacted any sensitive information that was not meant for public eyes.
While this news was not well received by Democrats, liberals and Trump detractors across the country, Barr reassured them that even though he was under no compulsion to release the report as per the law, he would do so in time, so that the Congress and the American public could review the report for themselves. However, he did add that as per his own analysis, as well as the conclusions highlighted by Robert Muller in his report, it seemed that there was no evidence that President Trump had committed the transgressions he had been accused of by many of his opponents.
This latter admission was severely disappointing for people who had been hoping for the report to finally provide Congress with enough evidence to initiate an impeachment process against Donald Trump. It was also taken as a vindication by President Trump himself, and his many supporters, who branded the entire Muller investigation a ‘witch hunt’ that had come to its logical conclusion. However, despite Attorney General Barr’s statements, it became clear that only the release of the report itself could truly satiate the public, particularly Democrats and their supporters who, it seemed, were out for blood.
Release of the Muller Report
The Muller Report was released on April 18, 2019, and, as expected, caused an outpour of emotions on both sides of the aisle. Attorney General Barr’s assessment that President Trump had been exonerated by Muller turned out to be false, as the report in fact provided sufficient evidence of wrongdoing and questionable interference from the White House.
The report was clear in its analysis that the US Constitution does not “categorically and permanently immunize a President for obstructing justice” and that “the conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office, accords with our (US) constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”
The report went on to state that if the President can be found to have “obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution”, then in that case Congress had the authority to “prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice”. The report also explained that Congress could criminalize certain obstructive conduct by the President, which included “suborning perjury, intimidating witnesses, or fabricating evidence” as these prohibitions raised no “separation-of-powers questions”. The report added that “the separation-of-powers doctrine authorizes Congress to protect official proceedings, including those courts and grand juries, from corrupt, obstructive acts regardless of their source” and that “any inroad on presidential authority that would occur from prohibiting corrupt acts does not undermine the President’s ability to fulfill his constitutional mission”.
Finally, the report concluded that “in the rare case in which a criminal investigation of the President’s conduct is justified, inquiries to determine whether the President acted for a corrupt motive should not impermissibly chill his performance of his constitutionally assigned duties” and that, while the Muller Report did not conclude that the President committed a crime, “it also does not exonerate him”.
While Democrats and Trump critics were understandably ecstatic that the truth about Donald Trump was finally out, certain members of the Republican Party also dared to criticize the President for his many transgressions. Chief among his detractors from within the Republican Party was Mitt Romney, the Senator from Utah who was his party’s nominee for President against Barack Obama in the 2012 elections.
Even though Romney stated that he was glad that Robert Muller did not have enough evidence to charge the President directly, the report did make him realize “how far we (government) have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders”. He added that he was sickened by “the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President” and that he was shocked that “fellow citizens working in a campaign for the President welcomed help from Russia, including information that had been illegally obtained; that none of them acted to inform American law enforcement; and that the campaign chairman was actively promoting Russian interests in Ukraine”.
The House Democratic committee was also quick to release a statement, saying that they were “profoundly troubled by the astonishing efforts by President Trump identified in the report to obstruct justice” and that it was now Congress’ responsibility to review and assess the evidence presented in the report. Senator Elizabeth Warren became the first high profile Democrat to officially demand that the prospect of impeachment be pursued in light of President Trump’s misconduct. She tweeted that “the severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty” and that “the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States”.
Calls for President Trump’s impeachment were echoed by many other Democrats, with some even calling it their most important duty under the current circumstances. However, it soon became clear that while the relatively younger crop of Democrat Party members was ready to rid the White House of Donald Trump, the senior leadership within the party were not as keen to do so as some of their younger colleagues.
Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, had earlier hinted that she may support moves to impeach the President, however, in recent days she seemed to have changed her approach. She asked her fellow Democrats to be patient after several drafted articles of impeachment in the house, and stated that the government could investigate Trump “outside of impeachment hearings”. She added that we are going to go “as fast as the facts take us” and that it was important to know all the evidence before considering impeachment. The Chairman of the United States House Committee on the Judiciary, Jerrold Nadler, also sidestepped questions regarding impeachment, as his committee would ultimately be in charge of initiating any such proceedings in the future. He stated that impeachment was not an immediate concern for the Democratic Party and that at the moment their job was to “go through all the evidence, all the information we can get” before proceeding any further.
Amid talks of impeachment and countrywide ridicule and criticism for his actions, Donald Trump reacted to the Muller Report by taking to Twitter. Over a period of almost 12 hours, the President sent out numerous tweets, condemning Robert Muller and his report, the Democrat Party, the bias media and any other individual or group that he felt were ‘attacking’ him for his perceived misdeeds highlighted in the report.
He called the Muller Report a “total hit job which should never have been allowed to start in the first place”, and that it was “written as nastily as possible by 13 Angry Democrats who were true Trump Haters”. He called Robert Muller “highly conflicted” and stated multiple times that he had the right to end the whole “Witch Hunt” if he wanted and that “I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted. I chose not to. I had the right to use Executive Privilege. I didn’t”.
It seems that even after all that he has been through, Trump still does not understand the scope of his authority, and that it was this same kind of desire to affect the outcome of the Muller investigation that made people accuse him of Obstruction of Justice. However, keeping in mind his initial reaction of joy after the release of the Muller Report, to his recent condemnation of everything and everyone associated with it, perhaps it is possible that the President and his team are starting to realize that there may be enough evidence within the Muller Report to bury Trump; either in the form of an impeachment, or as a blow to his approval ratings before the next elections. Regardless, the next few months will be absolutely crucial for both Donald Trump and the Democrats, as they set their eyes on to the 2020 elections.