The full impact of Robert S. Mueller III’s report is beginning to register with both Democrats and President Trump’s apologists. If the Sunday shows were any guide, it’s going to be tough sledding for Trump’s spin squad.
Kellyanne Conway on ABC’s “This Week” chose simply to lie about the report. She denied the report left the decision on obstruction up to Congress. She danced away when presented with Trump’s explicit statement that he never wanted to fire Mueller and with the report’s findings that he told then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller. A small snippet of the exchange demonstrates her abject dishonesty in lying about a report documenting Trump’s lies:
[MARTHA] RADDATZ: I do want to talk about Russian interference, but I want to get a clear answer on Don McGahn. Do you believe Don McGahn when he says the president tried to get him to fire Bob Mueller?
CONWAY: I believe the president was frustrated about the investigation from the very beginning and knew it was ill-conceived. And I would remind everybody of something that gets zero coverage, which is, days before …
RADDATZ: Please answer that question, Kellyanne. It’s the only question …
CONWAY: You’ve got to ask Don McGahn and the president. I can only talk about …
RADDATZ: It is in the Mueller report and Don McGahn said he’s telling the truth, under oath …
CONWAY: I don’t believe — I don’t believe it amounts to obstruction of justice and if it had, then Mueller would have said this is obstruction of justice …
RADDATZ: But do you believe Don McGahn?
CONWAY: I believe that Don McGahn is an honorable attorney who stayed on the job 18 months after this alleged incident took place and that, if he were being asked to obstruct justice or violate the constitution or commit a crime — help to commit a crime by the president of the United States, he wouldn’t have stayed. I certainly wouldn’t stay. The president is — was rightly frustrated and trying to, like everybody else tries to do, make an ill-conceived, illegitimate investigation that’s produced no collusion, no criminal conspiracy, no indictment, no impeachment of this president.
He was trying to make it go away because he says, on page 61 — on page 61 of Volume 2 — people should read it — the — Mueller admits that the president is rightly frustrated that he thinks this ill-conceived investigation is going to affect his ability to go forward with foreign policy and his domestic agenda. He’s been under a cloud from day one even though on January 6 …
“Frustration” is no defense to obstruction of justice. In fact, it is a motive.
When guests behave as Conway did, it is best for the host to explicitly state the guest is not answering the question and/or is lying.
That’s what Fox News’s Chris Wallace did with Rudolph W. Giuliani when he tried to assert that Trump was exonerated on obstruction. (“But, Mayor, that’s not true. The Mueller report makes a clear, especially on the issue of … obstruction … that he’s leaving it to Congress.”)
At other times, the Trump team just attacked Mueller, whose work they were touting just days ago:
WALLACE: Obstruction of justice can be motivated by a desire to protect noncriminal personal interests to protect against investigations for underlying criminal liability falls into a gray area, or to avoid personal embarrassment.
Mueller says the injury to the justice system is just as great. It doesn't matter whether there was an underlying crime. It's still obstruction.
GIULIANI: Well, when did Mueller become god? Mueller says the injury to the justice system is still as great — there was no injury, by the way. We’re talking about an inchoate crime. We’re talking about something that didn’t happen.
And then there is the tactic of confessing to conduct that all but the Trump cult would consider to be a betrayal of one’s country and our democracy. On “Meet the Press,” Giuliani tried to condone using WikiLeaks, a Russian cut-out, to win the election:
Why did the president trumpet WikiLeaks so many times?
Because they were putting out things that were true and very, very damaging to Hillary Clinton. Of course, of course you would want things that are —
And you knew this was a — but you at the time even sort of knew that these were stolen by foreign —
I did not. I knew WikiLeaks had them. It’d be like the Pentagon Papers. I mean, Pentagon Papers were stolen. They were stolen from the, from the, from the Department of Defense. My god, that’s horrible. During, during and about a war —
This is a foreign adversary though. This is a foreign adversary, someone who many —
What's the difference between a spy and a foreign adversary?
One works for the United States of America and one doesn't.
Well, wait a second. Wait a second.
Doesn't one work for the United States of America and one doesn't?
Clearly, stealing classified documents is theft. Now, there were overriding reasons for it, but it’s still theft. Legally, it’s the same thing. Morally, it’s the same thing. And the reality is, here’s the thing that’s really interesting about it. And I don’t want to dispute this too much. But everything they put out about Hillary Clinton was true. They didn’t make things up. They shouldn’t have stolen it. But the American people were just given more information about how deceptive, how manipulative her people and her campaign were. …
But in 2016, I'm just curious. In 2016, the intelligence services knew that WikiLeaks was not a journalistic enterprise anymore. It may have started that way. That it was serving as a front for essentially foreign adversary intelligence dumps.
Why did the president think it was ethical to essentially trumpet what WikiLeaks was doing?
Well, if I’m, if I’m — even in law enforcement, if I’m running an investigation and all of a sudden evidence is given to me about the criminality of the person I’m investigating, even if it comes from a, from a questionable source, I’m going to use that information. And there was nothing, nothing to suggest that this was manufactured evidence. Everything printed about —
CHUCK TODD: But does it bother you at all that a foreign adversary wanted to manipulate our elections?
Sure it does. Absolutely.
So why participate in helping in their manipulation?
Nobody's participating in it.
Trumpeting WikiLeaks is participating in it.
No, it is not. It is not. That’s not at all participating in it. …
But of course holding up the fruits of hacked material obtained by a Russian cut-out is “participating” in the plot, just as his campaign team attending a meeting in Trump Tower with the hope of getting dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russians constituted “participating” in a foreign government’s interference with our election.
Let’s not gloss over what Giuliani in essence is saying: Yeah, why not let a foreign power help him win?! (Someone should ask Trump if he intends to ask Russia to help him out again in 2020.) No, in a democracy we — not a foreign dictator — get to pick our leaders. (In case you think this might have been a slip of the tongue, Giuliani repeated this argument on CNN’s “State of the Union.” He told Jake Tapper that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians.”)
In short, Giuliani acknowledges that Trump, just as Mueller said in the report, eagerly looked to Russia to help win the presidency. If Trump really cannot acknowledge that such conduct is a betrayal of our sovereign country, he has no business being its president. It’s ironic for a president who was obsessed with Democrats’ trying to delegitimize his presidency to defend himself by acknowledging he looked to Russian hackers to win the election.
The administration is trapped in its own spin. Having claimed vindication by the report, Trump and his flunkies now must deny what is in it, avoid answering questions for which there is no good answer and/or deny that getting help from a hostile power betrays our country. That might get the administration through a news cycle or two, but at some point a significant majority of Americans may conclude Trump is a menace to our Constitution — to our sovereignty — and must be ejected before he can do more harm.