President Trump has repeatedly crowed that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is a “total exoneration.” After its release Thursday morning, he tweeted: “No collusion. No obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats – Game Over.”

But the report itself, for those who bothered to read it, makes a mockery of that assertion. Even with its multiple redactions, the voluminous document made public Thursday by the Justice Department contains numerous examples of Trump degrading his office by engaging in sleazy and self-serving behavior.

NO CRIMINAL COOPERATION WITH RUSSIA

It’s true that the special counsel didn’t establish that Trump’s campaign criminally cooperated with Russia in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential campaign. (It does provide evidence that a Russian organization with ties to the Kremlin tirelessly promoted Trump and bashed Hillary Clinton on social media with the – evidently – unwitting aid of Trump campaign officials and Trump himself. It also notes several overtures by Russians to supply stolen emails and other “dirt” to the Trump campaign, drawing interest rather than alarm from campaign officials.)

But the report absolutely does not clear the president of the more serious accusation that he tried to obstruct justice through a variety of efforts to abort or interfere with the Russia investigation.

On the contrary, the report says: “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. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.” It goes on to say – despite Trump’s boasts to the contrary – that the report “does not exonerate him.”

A close look through the hundreds of pages of facts, evidence and legal interpretation reveals, as the report itself says, “multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations, including the Russian-interference and obstruction investigations.”

MANY ATTEMPTS AT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE

To name just a few: Trump attempted to have then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions reverse his own decision – required by ethics rules – to recuse himself from the investigation. Trump fired FBI director James Comey – at least partly because of the “pressure” from the Russia investigation – and then lied about why he did so. He directed White House counsel Don McGahn to order Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller soon after the special counsel’s appointment. McGahn refused to carry out the order and prepared to resign, and Trump later backed down. When The New York Times reported on Trump’s demand, the president asked McGahn to deny it.

The report makes it clear that most of Trump’s attempts at interference failed, “but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests.”

Despite that damning judgment, the special counsel decided not to take a position on whether Trump obstructed justice. Acting on their own, Attorney General William Barr and Rosenstein then concluded that the evidence “is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

In other words, Trump skated by, despite ample evidence of misbehavior, thanks to a favorable and generous reading of the facts and laws by his own attorney general. For the president to call that an “exoneration” is laughable.

Furthermore, even if you buy the attorney general’s conclusion that no illegal obstruction took place, that doesn’t make Trump’s actions much less outrageous. Nor does such a finding prevent Congress from considering whether Trump’s actions amount to “high crimes and misdemeanors” justifying impeachment and removal from office.

It seems unlikely, though, that impeachment will gain traction in the House, let alone that two-thirds of the Republican-controlled Senate would vote to remove Trump. And, in addition to being likely to fail, a battle over impeachment would be extraordinarily bitter and divisive for an already badly polarized country.

THE CASE FOR A ONE-TERM PRESIDENCY

As we have said before, the best way to end the Trump presidency is for voters to turn out in large numbers to remove him in next year’s election. The misconduct documented in Mueller’s report strengthens the already urgent argument for replacing him. But even without it, there are dozens of good reasons to emphatically reject his leadership.

Americans didn’t need the Mueller report to establish that this president is ignorant, erratic and irresponsible or that he is contemptuous of the rule of law.

But the special counsel’s account underlines the importance of making Donald Trump a one-term president.

 

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