This editorial originally appeared in The Washington Post
If there is one thing former special counsel Robert Mueller III made clear in his Wednesday congressional testimony, it is that his investigation was not an “illegal and treasonous attack on our Country,” as President Donald Trump characterized it in a tweet shortly before Mueller’s appearance.
On the contrary, Mueller underscored that it was Russia that attacked the country’s democracy in the 2016 presidential election through a cyber-campaign designed to help Trump. Trump, the former special counsel confirmed, welcomed that assistance. A number of his top aides lied in the ensuing investigation. Those lies, Mueller said, impeded his probe.
Perhaps most seriously, Mueller said Russia’s interference is continuing and will be repeated in the 2020 presidential election. “Over the course of my career, I have seen a number of challenges to our democracy,” Mueller said. “The Russian government’s effort to interfere in our election is among the most serious.” He added: “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it during the next campaign.” What’s more, “many more countries” are also looking at election hacking.
Trump and congressional Republicans ought to be alarmed by that prediction. Instead, they spent the day slandering Mueller, to little effect. As Republicans argued that the Russia inquiry was driven by corrupt intent, Mueller pointed out that the president’s statements about WikiLeaks during the campaign — welcoming the leaks of Democratic emails stolen by Russia — “calls for investigation.”
As for Trump’s repeated claims that the special counsel completely exonerated him, Mueller stated: “The president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed.”
Much of the rest of Mueller’s testimony reminded Americans why the president and his congressional toadies do not want the special counsel’s report discussed honestly.
Mueller’s report described how Trump several times egregiously attempted to disrupt the post-2016 Russia investigation inquiry, including by ordering Mueller’s dismissal. White House staff refused to follow Trump’s order. Yet, as Mueller confirmed several times, attempted obstruction is still wrong: It “strikes at the core of the government’s effort to find the truth and to hold wrongdoers accountable,” he explained.
Contrary to the spin of Attorney General William Barr, Mueller confirmed that the Justice Department’s policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted loomed large in the special counsel’s thinking on whether to consider charging Trump with a crime. He also stood by a letter his office sent to Barr complaining that the attorney general misleadingly described the special counsel’s findings.
Near the end of his testimony, Mueller declared that his report should be “a signal, a flag to those of us who have responsibility to exercise that responsibility, not to let this kind of thing happen again.” This was a call for members of Congress to do more to protect the nation’s democracy. Yet all Americans should listen. The Mueller report lays out for those ultimately responsible in a democracy — the voters — what a sick presidency looks like.