Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress summarizing the Mueller investigation that absolved Trump of collusion and determined that Trump would not be prosecuted for possible obstruction of justice brought joy to Trump, Republicans in Congress, and Moscow. But as many commentators pointed out, absent Mueller’s full report, the letter left more questions hanging than answers. So much information is already in the public domain about Trump’s efforts to undermine the investigation and the Trump campaign’s extensive contacts with Russia that his claims of exoneration, not to mention Barr’s summary (or cover-up?), cannot be taken seriously. David Leonhardt succinctly summarized the case for Trump’s unfitness for office:
He directed a criminal conspiracy to break campaign finance laws. He has used the presidency for personal enrichment. He has undermined democracy. He has damaged America’s global standing. He has lied repeatedly to the American people. He has obstructed justice. (New York Times, “Three Takeaways from the Barr Letter,” March 25, 2019)
Numerous investigations of Trump’s corruption, violations of campaign finance laws, security clearances, and obstruction of justice remain. More subpoenas and Congressional hearings lie ahead. The lies and secret dealings with Russia and other governments remain to be explained. Impeachment proceedings in the House of Representatives are not out of the question. The biggest problem for Democrats may now be maintaining public interest and avoiding overkill. As Dan Balz writes in the Washington Post (March 25): “House Democrats will have to think carefully about any potential payoffs. The party’s 2020 presidential candidates will have to consider whether there is a public appetite, beyond those who already despise the president, for investigations that could turn into partisan spectacles on Capitol Hill.”
For the moment Trump has the edge. He’ll be tweeting “total exoneration” endlessly. We need to keep our eye on the ball: 2020. Investigations may reveal criminal intent and indictable offenses. But removing Trump from office by the ballot box is clearly the only certain route to normalcy.