ANOTHER VIEWPOINT: With no crimes alleged, Mueller and Barr hand Trump to Congress

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The Chicago Tribune

“As the report states: ‘(T)he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.’”

–U.S. Attorney General William Barr, informing Congress of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, March 24

And now, flummoxed Democrats in the U.S. House must decide: Will they try to impeach President Donald Trump for alleged high crimes and misdemeanors — knowing that a Republican Senate wouldn’t convict him? Or do they conclude that centrist voters have had enough of investigations, and instead double down on their determination to beat Trump on Nov. 3, 2020?

The Democrats had hoped special counsel Robert Mueller would identify illicit Trump ties to Russia, plus presidential obstruction of justice. But after 675 days of investigation, more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 executed search warrants and some 500 witness interviews, Mueller’s team of lawyers and FBI agents “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”

Did Trump fall short of his constitutional obligations in another way, by trying to obstruct the government investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election? In his four-page letter to Congress, Attorney General William Barr said Mueller’s report “does not exonerate” the president and instead “sets out evidence on both sides of the question.” By leaving that question for others to ponder, Mueller sidestepped political landmines.

Yes, political. Because with no pending legal action, it’s all political for now. That’s one big takeaway from Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, which Barr says he intends to disclose. Ambiguity on the obstruction question gives Democrats room to attack, and perhaps debate impeachment.

In our view, the obstruction allegations always seemed shaky. Richard Nixon schemed in secret to escape the Watergate scandal; Trump took brazen, public actions suggesting he wanted to thwart the Russia investigation. Most egregiously, Trump fired James Comey, who had been in charge of the probe — and then said in a TV interview that Russia was on his mind when he did so.

Yet presidents can hire and fire their command staff, FBI directors included. Barr, in Sunday’s letter, said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded there isn’t sufficient evidence to establish that Trump’s defiance met the legal definition of obstruction.

We anticipate reading Mueller’s report, not just Barr’s summary. For now, though, Trump is surviving the scandal that has dogged his presidency: A special counsel investigated whether a president of the United States connived with a foreign adversary to corrupt a national election. That allegation, we’re now told, didn’t prove out.

That should come as a relief to all Americans. Those still enraged — by Trump’s volatile conduct or by the relentless attacks on him — then will rejoin their fierce political tribes.

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