Where We Go From Here
While we all digest every detail in Barr’s redacted Mueller report and the realization that the Attorney General remarkably tells a greater percentage of lies per words spoken than Sarah Huckabee Sanders and even Donald Trump, what is already clear is that Mueller believed that Trump had obstructed justice and essentially passed the responsibility for dealing with that issue to Congress. What is also clear is that, while not being able to bring a criminal conspiracy charge, at least partially because of the continual obstruction, Mueller was able to uncover an enormous amount of interaction between the Trump campaign and the Russians where the Russians were determined to intervene in the campaign on Trump’s behalf and the Trump campaign willingly and knowingly accepted that help, organized their campaign around that help, and sought more of it.
As Lawrence O’Donnell said last night, the release of Barr’s redacted version of Mueller’s report is only the end of the beginning. The details of the report are so damning, both on obstruction and collusion, that it is clear that Congress, which of course means Democrats in the House at this point, must take some action. Democratic leaders are still resistant to impeachment, fearing a backlash from the Trump base. Trump, perversely, similarly believes that impeachment will help him get elected and, if the Democrats don’t impeach him now, he will attempt to force them to do so over the coming months. Finally, the Democratic base will demand impeachment or something very close to it.
What many of us might not remember or even know is that there was an extensive prelude to the House impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon. That prelude was the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. Under the leadership of Senator Sam Ervin, the committee took a two-week block of time in May of 1973 in order to parade a long list of witnesses and broadcast 319 hours of questions and answers. Those hearings produced the most startling revelations about the Watergate scandal including the existence of the White House tapes and John Dean’s dramatic testimony coming clean about the corruption at the core of the Nixon presidency and administration. The information uncovered by those hearings provided the basis for the House impeachment proceedings.
Instead of impeachment hearings, this is the path that House Democrats need to take now. Rather than bringing up individual witnesses in front of different committees on different days, a House Select committee that can line up a parade of witnesses to testify continuously over a two week period sometime later this spring or early this summer. Don’t just bring Mueller and Barr, (the AG will only continue to lie at this point), to testify but every important fact witness of which there are dozens. Continuous hearings will not only demand an enormous media focus but also make it harder for Trump to deflect attention from them. It will bring focus to all the attempts at collusion and obstruction and the actual witness testimony will be far more impactful than simply reading a report. The details will be provided by the witnesses in their own words, rather than through a lens of legalese that even Mueller’s testimony would provide. The hearings may not uncover much new information, (you never know), but they will provide enormous color to the information we already do know and that Mueller has provided. Lastly, Trump is preternaturally disposed to obstruct any inquiry and it would not be beyond the realm of possibility that he would tamper with witnesses and further obstruct.
At the end of those two weeks, Democratic leaders can take a look at where public opinion stands. I don’t expect it will move much, (you never know), but at least the American people will have a full flavor of how corrupt the entire Trump campaign and Presidency was and is in the words of the people who were directly involved. If the politics of impeachment have changed, then impeachment hearings could then begin with most of the evidence already having been presented.
In addition, these two weeks of intense focus will not detract from the House’s ability to pass the necessary legislation laying the groundwork for the policy platform for 2020. Nor will it detract, with the possible exception of Eric Swalwell, from the policy focus of the 2020 Democratic candidates.
A House Select Committee is the easiest way for Democratic leaders to thread the needle between impeachment and the oversight and accountability for the actions involving collusion and obstruction required by the Constitution.
One last unrelated addendum that I will repeat ad infinitum: Mueller revealed that the Russian interference in the 2016 campaign was far greater than we believed. Mitch McConnell, with Paul Ryan’s acquiescence, refused to join a bipartisan statement condemning those attacks in October, 2016 and he has taken minimal steps to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Originally published at https://thesoundings.com on April 18, 2019.