GSPM’s Matthew Dallek analyzes the official report documenting Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in 2016 elections.
By Tatyana Hopkins
Graduate School of Political Management professor Matthew Dallek shared his thoughts on special counsel Robert Mueller’s report with GW Today, as congressional interpretations of the report continue to fall generally along party lines.
The 448-page report concluded that there was unlawful Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. However, it did not conclude that the campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities. Regarding obstruction of justice, the report did not conclude that President Donald Trump committed a crime but also noted that the investigation did not exonerate him.
Q: What new information did we learn from the Mueller report?
A: Thanks to the media coverage, much of the Trump-Russia story and Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation were well known. Still, we learned a lot of new things.
Trump feared that Mueller’s investigation was a mortal threat to him, and we now know that Trump was extremely close (closer than we had thought) to firing Mueller. And despite his attorney general’s claims, we now know that Trump obstructed justice, and that Mueller opted against indictment primarily due to DOJ’s longstanding policy that sitting presidents can’t be indicted.
The report offers the most comprehensive chronicle of the Trump campaign’s extensive efforts to receive help from Russian election interference, Trump’s habitual lying and efforts by Trump’s aides to avert a Constitutional crisis. As an on-the-record, deeply reported book-length account, the Mueller Report offers the most in-depth chronicle of Trump’s corruption.
Q: If there was no conspiracy from the Trump campaign to work with Russia, what would motivate so many in the president’s orbit to lie to about the issue?
A: The White House’s culture of lying comes from the top. On a daily basis, Trump lies (see the Washington Post’s fact-checker) to protect himself, and his aides understand that their jobs require them to lie to defend their boss, so they have decided that lying and dissembling come with working under Trump.
Trump and his aides apparently feared that confirming their deep ties to Russia’s election interference would question the legitimacy of Trump’s 2016 victory. Disclosure would also expose Trump’s interest in doing business in Russia.
Q: What are the most damaging findings about the Trump campaign, his presidency and/or to his re-election?
A: It is unclear if the report will have any impact on Trump’s re-election campaign (the report seems unlikely to sway Trump’s supporters or critics). But the report is still damning; it confirms the lengths to which Trump and his aides went to receive help from a hostile foreign power during the election.
Trump’s repeated efforts to get his aides to fire Mueller and to lie to the public about his business dealings with Russia are also likely to brand him further as a president who ignores laws and norms with reckless abandon. The report fills in the picture of an amoral president who puts his personal financial and political interests ahead of his Constitutional oath.
Q: Language in the report suggests that Congress could still impeach Trump for trying to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi previously said impeachment was not on the table. Is that likely to change?
A: Democrats are divided by warring impulses. Some of them argue that their highest obligation is to defend the Constitution’s separation of powers, provide independent oversight of the executive and protect the rule of law. They are asking—what kind of precedent would it set if Congress refuses to investigate and impeach a president who obstructed justice?
Other Democrats contend that any impeachment effort, no matter how carefully conducted, will not win any Republican support and will die a swift death in the GOP-controlled Senate. These Democrats worry that impeachment will make Trump a martyr to Trump’s base, and they fear that other voters may turn against Democrats for prioritizing impeachment after a 2018 campaign premised on shoring up the Affordable Care Act, economic reforms, infrastructure and gun control. The remedy for removing Trump, they think, is to vote him out of office in 2020.
How to reconcile these impulses is now the task facing the House Democratic leadership.