Robert Mueller testified before Congress, and the conventional wisdom has rendered its verdict. Critics on the right – and even many on the left – agreed. He did not perform well. Or, at least, he didn’t deliver the kind of command performance that would reverse the emerging momentum (backed by polls) against impeachment. Perhaps it was time, to borrow a phrase from the Clinton impeachment battles of the late 1990s, to “move on.”
Regarding impeachment, that political advice is sound. Nancy Pelosi is defending a House majority that was built in part on winning districts that voted for Trump in 2016. Asking those voters to support only the second impeachment in American history – on the eve of a presidential election, no less – represents an unacceptable, divisive political risk. For the general election, however, the counsel should be different. Focus on findings that should shock the American conscience.
It was telling that in hours of testimony and sometimes acrimonious cross-examination, Mueller’s critics did not undermine a single one of the report’s material factual assertions regarding Trump’s conduct or the conduct of his team. Trump can tweet “No collusion, no obstruction” to his heart’s content, but those tweets can’t change the damning facts about his campaign’s actions in 2016 or his attempted obstructions that followed.
It’s not a “Russia Hoax” to note that Trump’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, lied about his contacts with Russia. It’s a simple fact that Trump’s campaign adviser, George Papadopolous, lied about his communications with a person he believed to be connected to Russia. Trump’s longtime friend and informal campaign advisor, Roger Stone, has been indicted in part for lying about his efforts to contact Wikileaks. Trump’s former “fixer” and lawyer lied about Trump’s continued efforts to negotiate a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow – efforts that continued during a presidential campaign where Trump made startling conciliatory statements about Vladimir Putin.
It’s absolutely true that Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in an effort to get incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, part of what Trump Jr. was clearly told was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Trump himself then edited Donald Jr.’s statement in 2017 to mislead the public about the true intent of the meeting. Moreover, there is now also evidence that Manafort transmitted internal Trump campaign polling data to Ukrainians and a Russian oligarch.
None of this conduct is acceptable. All of it reflects the fact that the Trump campaign was laden with individuals who were willing, eager even, to accept campaign help from America’s chief geopolitical foe. These events are now part of Trump’s story. They are every bit as much reflective of his character and disposition as the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape, his multiple adulteries, the multiple, corroborated sexual assault and sexual harassment claims against him, his hush-money arrangements with porn stars, his “very fine people” comment in the aftermath of the deadly alt-right violence at Charlottesville, his claims that a “Mexican Judge” (actually, an American judge born in Indiana) shouldn’t adjudicate his Trump University case, his lavish praise for dictator Kim Jong Un, and his recent, racist demand that black and brown American congresswomen should “go back to the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
And never presume that Americans already know the facts. Don’t just assume that Trump’s flaws are already “baked in” into how people think of him. Just last week I had a fascinating conversation with a Christian leader, a person who follows politics closely, who believed the actual facts that Mueller discovered in his investigation were “fake news,” that they were part of the “Russia hoax.” He was visibly disturbed when I told him the truth.
We know that Americans approach the polls thinking about more than policy. History teaches us that they often want to like or hopefully even admire the person in the Oval Office. And while Democrats and other Trump opponents are right to emphasize policy disagreements and policy alternatives, it is also vital to ask the American people, do you still want this man to be your president? While polls show that most Americans don’t want to impeach the president, they also show something else – that Mueller’s findings were more than twice as likely to make them oppose the president than support him.
I’ve noticed that Trump’s most loyal defenders offer two inconsistent responses when critics bring up the character of the president of the United States. They’re furious, and they say, “no one cares.” Yet if America is indifferent to his true nature, why the anger at the critique? The answer is that Americans aren’t indifferent, the political class consistently overestimates general public knowledge of Trump scandals, and it’s thus imperative that politicians, informed citizens, and activists tell the truth again and again. In a close election, weariness with dishonesty and corruption can make all the difference.
The bottom line is clear. The truth is one of Donald Trump’s most dangerous enemies. Robert Mueller uncovered the truth. It’s now up to the American people to ensure that the truth carries political consequences.