Contrary to the White House spin, the report by special counsel Robert Mueller doesn't exonerate President Donald Trump of obstruction of justice. Far from it. The report makes a strong case that the president did, in fact, misuse the powers of his office in repeated attempts to hinder the investigation into Russian election meddling.
Mueller made clear he didn't charge Trump with obstruction because the Department of Justice prohibits indicting a sitting president. He instead put it in the hands of Congress, which has the constitutional responsibility of presidential oversight. Congress has every right and duty to take up the inquiry where Mueller left off.
This is how it's supposed to work. It is, in fact, exactly how it did work during the investigations of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, who both faced scrutiny first by appointed investigators and then by Congress. Yet Trump's reaction to the House queries has been to stonewall, to order witnesses to ignore subpoenas, and to rail, cajole and threaten on Twitter. In essence, his strategy to end the obstruction probe is to ... obstruct.
The Mueller report meticulously details Trump's various actions that could well qualify as obstruction:
— firing former FBI Director James Comey for the admitted purpose of thwarting the investigation,
— ordering White House Counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller,
— trying to get McGahn to create a phony record about that order,
— trying to interfere in the cases against his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
With House Democrats just beginning to probe these issues, Trump declared that "there is no reason to go any further" — as if he has the power to end it by fiat. This startling statement of constitutional ignorance betrays Trump's authoritarian instincts. The administration is digging in with blanket announcements that it will ignore all subpoenas and order all past and present White House officials not to testify.
Consider this: If, as Trump claims, it's "fake news" that he ordered McGahn to fire Mueller and to lie about that, wouldn't it be in Trump's interest for McGahn to testify under oath and deliver some clarity on the subject? Yet McGahn is among the officials Trump has ordered to defy the subpoenas and not speak to Congress.
Certainly, other presidents have argued about what Congress is entitled to have during inquiries — but always on a case-by-case basis. Trump's approach is different: effectively proclaiming himself to be beyond any congressional oversight whatsoever, period.
This qualifies as a constitutional crisis. The House should seek contempt-of-Congress rulings against anyone who ignores subpoenas and do whatever it legally can to force cooperation.
Trump is testing how far he can abuse his power; the answer must be unequivocal and resounding.
REPRINTED FROM THE ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH