Editorial: Mueller fallout: Address election flaws, demand better from President Trump

  • The dome of the U.S. Capitol early Thursday, in Washington.

    The dome of the U.S. Capitol early Thursday, in Washington.

 

The television lights were still warm at the Department of Justice from Attorney General William Barr's Mueller Report press conference and the report itself had yet to be released, when President Donald Trump tweeted, "NO COLLUSION. NO OBSTRUCTION. FOR THE HATERS AND THE RADICAL LEFT DEMOCRATS -- GAME OVER."

The president, it must be remarked, was wrong on at least two points. The Special Prosecutor's investigation was not a game, and it is far from over.

Nor should it be.

By itself, the obvious misstatement in the president's "Game of Thrones"-themed tweet -- "No obstruction" -- will remain a point of discussion for months, if not years, to come. The report, in fact, says there is plenty of evidence of obstruction, just not such that it could convince a special prosecutorial team to pursue a federal court case against a sitting president of the United States.

The attorney general decided not to pursue the case, noting in his press conference that a key factor in his decision was that the president was under a lot of pressure when he undertook some of the questionable behaviors detailed in the report.

For Robert Mueller's part, the issue was not nearly so clear. "If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," his report says. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment."

Whether they rise to the standard of a legal case or not, behaviors specifically described in the report surely must raise alarms for all who cherish a government built around respect for law. They show a president of the United States who attempted from the beginning -- both overtly and behind the scenes -- to undermine, strategically, an independent investigation and to cynically destroy reputations and deepen the country's divisions. The level of obstruction described -- whether legally tenable or not -- is extremely troubling and corrosive.

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So, the debate on that point is sure to continue, in the public and in the Congress. And that can be said, as well, even for the issue of collusion. Though the president's compliant attorney general repeated Trump's "no collusion" mantra several times during his press conference, the report emphasizes points that President Trump long refused to acknowledge -- that the Russians deliberately and forcefully sought to disrupt the United States election system, that they sometimes did so in apparent response to the president's own public urgings and that they didn't want just disruption. They wanted the election of Donald Trump.

It must be a concern for all reasonable Americans when an adversarial nation -- if not technically an enemy -- seeks to surreptitiously install a specific candidate as the leader of the free world. Why, we must ask, did our adversaries think it was in their interest to have Donald Trump as president?

As we stated following Barr's preliminary statement on the Mueller report three weeks ago, there is something reassuring in the document's suggestions that our president did not directly cooperate with our enemies. At the same time, there is something more than a little unnerving to see just how close to the line the president and his campaign were willing to go, and how eager they were for Russia's help.

These and many other points will surely get a fuller airing as time moves on. Congress will be correct to subpoena Mueller in order to learn more about how prosecutors reached their conclusions and the legal -- and, sometimes, apparently political -- factors that influenced them.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

It is an unfortunate truth that the political and cultural divisions the president sowed distort the nation's ability to discuss the serious issues that remain at the heart of the investigation. Too many people will applaud reflexively President Trump's self-serving and misleading interpretations of the report. Likewise, too many will use the clearly troubling aspects of the report to accuse the president with self-serving and misleading political interpretations of their own.

But we hope other Americans will read the full report -- which can be found online at http://bit.ly/dhmuellerreport -- and recognize that the Special Prosecutor's investigation has been an important and legitimate endeavor. It uncovered serious flaws in our election process and identified behaviors on the part of Trump and many others in government that warrant deep concern, if nothing else. Ultimately, the health of our nation requires that we continue to examine the actions and issues raised -- and seek something better.

Citizens, of all political philosophies, should not only expect more of our president; we should demand it.

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