There are many hot takes on the newly released redacted version of the Mueller report, but the bottom line is that the unveiling of the report revealed no knockout punches for either side. Supporters of the president will point to the fact that Mueller found no criminal conspiracy between members of the Trump Administration and the Russians while Trump critics will focus on the special counsel’s statement that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” of obstruction of justice.
In fact, the report paints a disturbing picture of President Trump. If no laws were broken, it may be only because Trump’s subordinates “declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests” to fire the special counsel and interfere with the Russia investigation.
Much of the damage done to the Trump Administration by the Mueller report is self-inflicted. It is Trump’s response to the investigation that is scandalous rather than a secret deal with Putin. The scandal extends to other members of the Administration such as Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders who admitted lying to reporters. Even Attorney General Barr’s initial characterization of the report, which Trump claimed showed “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION,” painted a one-sided picture of Mueller’s findings and further tarnished the Trump Administration’s credibility.
While Mueller stopped short of recommending charges against the president, he did say that “Congress may apply the obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” This suggests that even though Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges against the president, there might be sufficient cause for Congress to proceed with impeachment, a political rather than criminal process.
Regardless of Mueller’s suggestion, impeachment isn’t going to happen. While the House could easily vote to impeach Donald Trump with a simple majority, the Constitution requires a two-thirds vote to remove him from office. With Trump still overwhelmingly popular within the Republican Party, few Republican senators would vote against him.
If Democrats impeached President Trump without removing him from office, it would leave open the possibility that the Senate victory would give him enough of an edge to win re-election. When Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, he became even more popular after the Senate failed to convict and remove him from office. If the American people return Trump to the White House then impeachment becomes politically impossible.
Even if Trump could be impeached and removed from office, Mike Pence would become president. Pence would be a much more capable foe in the 2020 elections and would stand a much greater chance of being re-elected than Trump. Democrats might win the battle but lose the war.
Since the Mueller report didn’t contain a smoking gun that would get Republicans on the bandwagon for impeachment, the next best thing for Democrats is to take the issue to the voters. The Democrats will argue that Trump’s actions were unethical even if they weren’t illegal. The Mueller report is 448 pages of bad behavior, lies, and cover-ups from The Trump Administration. The attack ads write themselves. The Democratic case will be that Donald Trump is too prone to erratic and dishonest behavior to be trusted with a second term.
The Mueller report did not deliver a coup de grace to the Trump presidency, but it may have irreparably damaged the president’s re-election campaign. As Mr. Trump posts tweets proclaiming victory and exoneration, there are few signs that he even realizes how much trouble he is in.