President Trump has called the Mueller investigation a “witch hunt” nearly two hundred times on social media alone. Well, the special counsel concluded he was not a witch. After carefully scrutinizing any links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign, Robert S. Mueller III definitively declared “the investigation did not establish that the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” He didn’t do it.
Still, several leading Democrats have called for Trump’s impeachment on obstruction-of-justice charges. This is absurd.
The lesson of Watergate, we are told, is that the coverup is always worse than the crime. But in Watergate, there was a crime to cover up. We now know that Trump committed no crime. There was nothing to cover up. As Mueller put it, “unlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.”
This lack of an “underlying crime” is the source of Trump’s justified outrage over the Mueller investigation. Imagine that you were accused of a crime you knew you did not commit, and a special counsel was appointed who spent nearly two years and more than $25 million investigating you. You’d be angry and frustrated. You’d want someone to stand up for you, defend your interests and stop the insanity.
For two years, Trump watched as the investigation dragged on, weighing down his presidency. He had to endure being accused of “treason” and crimes of “a size and scope probably beyond Watergate.” He listened as members of the House and Senate intelligence committees, and former intelligence officials, led Americans to believe that they had seen secret evidence showing he had colluded with Russia — evidence he knew did not exist.
Of course, he wanted the investigation to end. But he didn’t end it. He didn’t obstruct justice because nothing was obstructed. Mueller was allowed to finish his work. The White House cooperated, sharing millions of pages of documents and giving Mueller access to dozens of senior officials. The fact that Trump railed against Mueller to aides and told White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller (which McGahn did not do and Trump did not press the matter) is not evidence of obstruction; it is evidence of exasperation. The president has a right to vent in private to his staff. Remember, the only reason Mueller knew about his private exchanges with McGahn is because Trump put no restrictions on McGahn’s cooperation. The president could have asserted privilege, but declined to do so. He let McGahn spend some 30 hours with Mueller, sharing details, according to the New York Times, “that investigators would not have learned of otherwise.” This is evidence of Trump’s cooperation, not obstruction.
As a result of this cooperation, the special counsel’s report contains some embarrassing moments for the president. But it also proves that Trump was telling the truth when it came to the central question of the investigation: He did not conspire with Russia.
If Democrats want to pursue impeachment nonetheless, then to quote Ronald Reagan quoting Clint Eastwood: “Go ahead, make my day.” Impeachment over anything other than a conspiracy with Russia will backfire with the American people and help ensure Trump’s reelection. First, it will fail, because two-thirds of the Senate will not vote to convict the president. Second, Trump’s supporters will see an impeachment effort as an attempted coup d'état, energizing his base ahead of the 2020 election. And third, it will be seen as partisan and unfair by persuadable voters, who will not appreciate politicians second-guessing the conclusions of an impartial investigation. Want to push Trump’s approval above 50 percent? Try to impeach him.
While Democrats debate pursuing impeachment, they are also abusing their powers to get Trump’s tax returns in the hope they will provide what the Mueller investigation did not: evidence of something incriminating. Does anyone really believe that the House Ways and Means Committee wants Trump’s returns to assess how “the IRS audits and enforces the Federal tax laws against a president”? Please. There is no legitimate legislative purpose for this request.
Both the Democrats’ attempt to misuse a 1920s law to violate Trump’s privacy and their partisan response to the Mueller report make clear that they seeking any pretext to oust Trump. But the only thing they will succeed in doing is eliciting sympathy for an otherwise unsympathetic president.