“No collusion, no obstruction.” “Fully exonerated.” “Victory lap.”
These were all phrases coming out of the White House last week to describe President Trump after the Mueller Report was released by the Justice Department. Several pages were entirely redacted by both the Mueller and Barr teams working in concert. These redactions were implemented to protect classified information, ongoing federal investigations, privacy, and information gathered from a grand jury which is protected by Title III, Rule 6 of the Federal Rules for Criminal Procedure. While Democrats are demanding that an unredacted version be presented to Congress, the majority of American people are unlikely to read even parts of the 400+ page report.
The Mueller Report did not produce a smoking gun in regards to the charge of obstruction or Trump’s questionable relationship with the Kremlin. However there were hundreds of interactions between Trump campaign officials and those working on behalf of Vladimir Putin in the run-up to the 2016 election, and much of it is documented in the report. A secret meeting between Blackwater’s Erik Prince (an ally of Trump and the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) and Russian oligarch, Kirill Dmitriev, in Seychelles raised eyebrows before — and after — Prince denied it had ever happened.
Then, there was the chilling moment when, while speaking at a conservative convention, Trump said: “Russia if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” That was the very same day Russian hackers began attempts at Hillary Clinton’s email server.
Or what about the appointment of Barr himself after he circulated an unsolicited memo around Washington in June of 2018 that stated he didn’t believe Trump’s choice to fire then FBI director James Comey amounted to an obstruction of justice? It should be noted that Barr wasn’t privy to any classified information within the confines of the case, so he made that statement without all the facts. That memo is the document that many believe convinced Trump to appoint him as his new Attorney General.
Additionally, Trump showed the world on multiple occasions that he was ready to dump Jeff Sessions because Sessions recused himself from the investigation as a Trump-appointed Attorney General. Barr wrote a memo stating he supports Trump’s stance, circulating his beliefs before positioning himself as a Trump ally or “loyalist.” (Barr had also served as AG under George H. W. Bush from 1991-1993.)
Loyalty is something Trump has expected from his appointees and staff from the start, and was part of the reason he fired Comey in the first place. It just so happens that now he has a loyalist in the very position that is set to decide whether further investigations or charges should be brought upon him.
When the president is being investigated for possibly working with a foreign government to win the presidency, should he really be allowed to appoint an Attorney General tasked with deciding his fate?
The Congressional Oversight Committee is meant to oversee the president’s actions, and if Trump has potentially overstepped his bounds as commander-in-chief, they are to investigate. Indeed, they have stayed busy, issuing over 100 subpoenas to the White House since Trump took office. It is their job to protect the constitution if they believe the president is acting unlawfully.
A list of legally questionable moves by our current president and his team include providing “hush money” to Stormy Daniels, asking then FBI director James Comey to “let the Russian thing go,” the subsequent firing of Comey, meetings at Trump Tower with Russian operatives during the campaign, appointing family members to roles in the White House, approving questionable security clearances, putting migrant children in cages, using the Trump Foundation to pay personal debts, and pay-to-play at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, amongst many other conflicts of interest.
Trump has stated his team is “fighting all subpoenas” which is a classic Trump move. People have sued him in the past for non-payment in his real estate dealings, only to have him countersue or drag the case along in courts forever by throwing money at lawyers. Congressional subpoenas to anyone else are serious, and if you don’t show up for a hearing, you can be held in contempt and imprisoned. It is extremely evident through his actions that President Trump believes he is above the law and will boldly challenge the stability of our democracy for his own personal benefit. This is why it is imperative that Congress pursue every legal course of action that they can. However Mueller, in his non-definitive language, left the door open for these investigations to continue.
There is a Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted which dates back to 1973 during the Nixon era. It’s assumed that an indictment would inhibit one’s ability to act as chief executive of the nation, and thus would be unconstitutional. This was enacted so presidents aren’t overwhelmed by potentially frivolous lawsuits and can focus on the very demanding job of commander-in-chief. Barr’s choice not to indict the president shouldn’t come as a surprise, especially after his memo. The current Justice Department is run by a Trump loyalist, and while it has a policy not to indict a sitting president, there are excellent arguments as to why it should be allowed.
Indicting a sitting president for breaking laws to attain his presidency feels like a no-brainer, but we are in uncharted territory with Trump, and the legal structure just isn’t in place for such circumstances… yet. It was inconceivable before this president that any candidate would have so many conflicts of interest, or be so overwhelmed by his own ego that he would welcome help from a foreign adversary to gain the presidency. But here we are, and doing nothing about it welcomes foreign adversaries to continue influencing our elections. 2020 is literally around the corner.
This policy opens the door for severe abuse of power, especially because the statute of limitations on criminal offenses such as these are only five years. If a president holds office for eight, then he would be immune for any actions taken before or within the first three years of his presidency. Unfortunately Congress is too divided to add an amendment to the constitution addressing this issue so maybe it’s time the Justice Department reconsiders their policy. As a nation, we are dangerously close to finding out what would happen if they don’t.
Ann Lewis is an artist, activist, and writer based in Detroit. Her artwork reflects upon social and environmental justice issues.