Since the release of the Mueller report, with each passing day comes a new and increasingly strident demand to impeach Donald Trump. The New York Times, Washington Post, and various prestige magazines are cluttered with such demands, casting impeachment as an imperative for the survival of American democracy. Mueller might have affirmatively concluded that no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia ever came close to being established, but that hasn’t stopped Democrats and their journalist allies from barreling full-steam ahead down this rabbit hole.
In a healthy media environment, the key finding from the report ought to have been that the ‘collusion’ hypothesis which dominated American political consciousness for nearly three years was exhaustively and resolutely debunked – but instead there has been a concerted move to deflect and change the subject.
One tactic employed to this end by Democrats and likeminded pundits has been to re-focus collective attention on Attorney General William Barr, whom they insist maliciously misrepresented Mueller’s findings in order to protect Trump. But their criticisms on this score never made any sense. Barr was clearly obliged to expeditiously relay the top-line findings of the report once it was submitted on March 22. And so by March 24, Barr issued a letter stating, accurately, that Mueller had not established ‘conspiracy or coordination’ between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, i.e. the core crux of the entire ‘collusion’ narrative. Hence the New York Times’s blaring front-page headline the following day, which also proved 100 percent accurate: MUELLER FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY.
Neither did Barr materially misrepresent Mueller’s findings on obstruction. As the report lays out in comprehensive detail, Mueller weighed competing facts and legal arguments in relation to all the allegedly obstructive acts committed by Trump and made no definitive determinations about the prosecutability of any of them. That is exactly what Barr said in the March 24 letter, in which he wrote that ‘while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’
But whipping up an ancillary and specious controversy about Barr, Democrats are merely attempting to prolong the fantasy that Mueller somehow indicted Trump, rather than meticulously examined every conceivable aspect of the purported Trump-Russia conspiracy, and rendered as affirmative a judgment as any prosecutor in Mueller’s position could ever proffer: that there was no such conspiracy. It’s game over.
Collusion true-believers and dead-enders are using the Barr ‘side-bar’ to fuel the storyline that impeachment is the only viable response to the Mueller report, lest the entire American system of government crumble. Democrats calling for impeachment are generally assumed to be members of Congress representing the ‘left-wing’ flank of the party – Elizabeth Warren, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and others – but increasingly there has been a move among more putatively ‘moderate’ members to hop aboard the pro-impeachment train as well. Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana, a former head of the Congressional Black Caucus and one of the most important early endorsers of Joe Biden’s nascent presidential campaign, proclaimed Sunday on Face the Nation that impeachment is the ‘best way’ to proceed. Seth Moulton, the ‘moderate’ member of Congress from Massachusetts and another newly-declared presidential candidate, also avowed his support for impeachment last week at a speech in New Hampshire. This is significant because it reflects impeachment gaining steam across disparate factions of the party; no longer can it be said to be confined exclusively to any particular ideological element.
Either way, it’s a fallacy to presume that there’s anything inherently ‘progressive’ or ‘left-wing’ about advocating to impeach the president on the basis of a debunked international espionage conspiracy theory that has its genesis in the FBI and CIA (both of which employed all manner of extraordinarily invasive surveillance tactics and extra-legal measures to impede the democratically-elected head of state) – and which had the practical impact of effectively criminalizing foreign policy heterodoxies. According to former Trump lawyer John Dowd, as well as conversations between Trump and administration officials relayed by Mueller in the report, the investigation hobbled Trump’s ability to conduct foreign affairs throughout his first term, and negated the possibility of any ‘détente’ with Russia to the point that relations between these two nuclear-armed states have soured to a dangerous nadir. Indeed, Mueller himself identifies a rationale for Trump’s behavior in ridiculing the Special Counsel investigation that would actually exculpate him in terms of obstruction, because it would bear on Trump’s Article II powers under the Constitution: ‘The president’s decision to curtail a law-enforcement investigation to avoid international friction would not implicate the obstruction-of-justice statutes,’ Mueller writes.
Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, Jerrold Nadler, and the rest of the House Democratic leadership might be relatively cautious in terms of how far they are willing to go on impeachment, but it’s difficult to imagine how they can resist the omni-directional pressure being heaped on them for very long. Tom Steyer, the mega-billionaire who toyed with a presidential run, has mounted an aggressive initiative through his activist organization ‘Need to Impeach,’ whereby constituents are showing up at Democratic congressional offices and flooding their representatives with calls and emails to demand that they take up the impeachment mantle. Especially with forthcoming congressional testimonies by Barr, Mueller, and other players in the Trump-Russia saga, this issue will simply not be going away any time soon. Democrats can try all they want to convince themselves that impeaching Trump on grounds of ‘obstruction’ rather than collusion is a tenable course, but politically speaking these two subjects are wholly inseparable. ‘Obstruction’ only ever arose as a live issue due to a collusion investigation which we now know was predicated on a complete fiction – or a ‘hoax,’ as Trump correctly observed on many occasions. If they really want to oust Trump on the basis of a discredited militaristic conspiracy theory that was generated by the most retrograde elements of the American national security state, fine: but at least be honest about it.