“WHAT HAPPENED TO RUSSIA [COLLUSION]? There was none. OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE? There was none.”
So tweeted Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina just two weeks ago in what has become an increasingly familiar refrain among Republican defenders of President Trump.
The Russia investigation was a hoax and a witch hunt, they argue, and the Ukraine whistleblower complaint is more of the same.
Since the Mueller Report was made public more than seven months ago — which in Trump’s America is an eternity — it has fallen into a memory hole. Its revelations of presidential misconduct are not only being ignored, for the most part, in the impeachment inquiry, they are being portrayed as much ado about nothing.
But lest we forget, Mueller’s two-year investigation did not exonerate the president of wrongdoing. Rather, it highlighted ten separate incidents of the president of the United States attempting to obstruct justice, which is still a crime, for now, in America.
As Mueller detailed in his report, Trump repeatedly sought to stop the Russia investigation. He tried to fire Mueller, to convince former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself, and when that failed, to enlist others, including his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, in his scheme.
He asked his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to falsify records. He dangled pardons in front of potential witnesses. He repeatedly lied to the public. He fired FBI Director James Comey in an attempt to end the inquiry — a fact that he admitted just last week, but which received almost no media attention.
Trump followed a similar pattern in regard to Ukraine. After he was briefed on the whistleblower complaint, the president unfroze military aid to Kyiv and his administration hurriedly sought a cover story on why the aid had been held up in the first place. He ostentatiously told the US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, that there was no quid pro quo with the Ukrainian government — in what now appears to be an effort to coach a witness who could testify to his illicit conduct. After spending two years publicly attacking Mueller and the Russia investigation, he has replicated the same strategy on Ukraine, besmirching witnesses and attacking House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and the House impeachment inquiry as illegitimate and even treasonous.
None of his broadsides can change the fact that Trump is once again seeking to collude with a foreign power to interfere in a presidential election.
As Mueller said in his July testimony, while there was not enough evidence to charge any member of the Trump campaign with conspiracy in working with Russia, there was plenty evidence of it.
Trump openly welcomed Russian interference and called on Moscow to hack Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. His campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, shared internal polling data with individuals who had ties to Russian intelligence officials.
His campaign even developed a “messaging strategy” around e-mails from Clinton’s aides that had been hacked by the Russians and published by Wikileaks. And as former Trump deputy campaign manager Rick Gates testified during the recent Roger Stone trial, Trump was likely told in advance of the Wikileaks revelations — a claim Trump denied in answers provided to Mueller’s team.
What is perhaps most shocking about the Mueller Report’s conclusions is the extent to which Trump and those around him tried to encourage and profit from Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. In an ordinary world, this kind of blatantly unpatriotic and undemocratic behavior would have ended Trump’s presidential bid.
But since those actions largely went unpunished, Trump went back to the well.
Indeed, the major difference between now and then is that rather than simply solicit and accept foreign election assistance, Trump is now using the power of his office to coerce foreign governments into providing it. Indeed, the president’s infamous phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky took place the day after Mueller testified to the House of Representatives.
Republicans want to play down Mueller’s conclusions — and Democrats are indirectly giving those efforts a boost by refusing to make Trump’s earlier crimes a centerpiece of the impeachment effort.
The Mueller Report is not a sideshow or a hoax. It offers compelling evidence of Trump’s serial disrespect for the rule of law. It lays out his refusal to abide by basic democratic norms. It speaks to the lengths he is willing to go to use the awesome power of the presidency to further his personal political goals and avoid accountability. But above all, in combination with the Ukraine revelations, it makes clear the depth of Trump’s impeachable conduct. If a president can get away with both of these outrages, he can do practically anything — and in Trump’s case almost certainly will.
Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.