Neither, of course, does the Times: Should Donald J. Trump be charged with obstruction of justice, whether by the House of Reps or by some prosecutor?
In our own book of ledgers, it seems like a shaky idea.
For one thing, you don't charge 3-year-olds with committing obstruction of justice. You also might not be inclined to charge someone who's mentally ill.
With those thoughts in mind, Trump strikes us as someone who may not have the capacity to commit an obstruction of justice. Consider:
In the renditions of the Mueller report, Trump is constantly issuing orders which he then ignores for a month or, in the occasional case, until the end of time.
No one pays any attention to what he says; he doesn't do so either. In the moment, he rants and storms upon the moors, but he doesn't seem to notice or care when nobody does what they're told.
That doesn't mean that Donald J. Trump isn't disordered and dangerous. It means that many of Mueller's accounts strike us as peculiar and perhaps as a bit underwhelming.
In this morning's New York Times, Charlie Savage evaluates six of the episodes which are listed in the Mueller report as possible obstructions. The resulting assessments are Savage's and no one else's, of course.
That said, Savage's assessments are notable for the absence of smoking guns and the presence of mountains of nuance. Consider his first example:
Did Donald J. Trump commit an obstruction when he allegedly told Don McGahn to tell Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller the Great? Savage runs through Mueller's account of the three criteria which must be present to establish a crime. What follows is Savage's account of the "bottom line:"
Bottom line: While Mr. Mueller hedged a bit on the first of the three criteria, the report suggests there is sufficient evidence to ask a grand jury to consider charging this act as illegal obstruction.In Savage's view, after Mueller finished his hedging, he suggested that that a prosecutor could ask a grand jury to consider charging Trump's conduct as a crime.
That's amazingly soft. What follows is the strongest "bottom line" Savage was able to muster in any of the six episodes he reviews:
Bottom line: The report suggests there is sufficiently plausible evidence to ask a grand jury to consider charging Mr. Trump with attempted obstruction.The report suggests that you could ask a grand jury to consider charging Trump! After all, there's plausible evidence!
(For the record, Savage says what others have said about Trump's most widely-discussed act of this type. He says that Mueller doesn't think that the firing of Comey the God could plausibly be charged as a crime.)
The liberal world has been pleasured for two years by claims that Trump was going to be frog-marched off in chains. He could still be impeached, of course; that decision lies with the House. If he gets defeated for re-election, he could then be charged with some crimes.
It seems to us that our liberal world would be better served learning how to persuade our fellow citizens to vote in the ways we prefer. That said, we're almost completely hapless when it comes to matters like that. Tribal dreams of "locking them up" have become our back-up approach.
Might we note one last point about the alleged order to McGahn? In the Mueller report, we're told about a front-page error by the New York Times, one we discussed in real time:
MUELLER REPORT: There is some evidence that at the time the New York Times and Washington Post stories were published in late January 2018, the President believed the stories were wrong and that he had never told McGahn to have Rosenstein remove the Special Counsel. The President correctly understood that McGahn had not told the President directly that he planned to resign. In addition, the President told Priebus and Porter that he had not sought to terminate the Special Counsel, and in the Oval Office meeting with McGahn, the President said, “I never said to fire Mueller. I never said ‘fire.’” That evidence could indicate that the President was not attempting to persuade McGahn to change his story but was instead offering his own—but different—recollection of the substance of his June 2017 conversations with McGahn and McGahn’s reaction to them.Oof. "The President correctly understood that McGahn had not told the President directly that he planned to resign?"
That's a reference to a widespread false impression created by a bungled or deliberately deceptive New York Times front-page report—a bungled report which was instantly ballyhooed wherever "corporate cable" was sold.
In the passage posted above, the Mueller report notes that Trump was correct in thinking that a major part of the Times report was wrong. (And that our favorite cable stars were pimping a bogus claim.) By the time this passage appears, the Mueller report has already made two references to the front-page bungle, or act of deception, by the glorious Times.
As you can see, the Mueller report also says that "there is some evidence that...the President believed the stories were wrong and that he had never told McGahn to have Rosenstein remove the Special Counsel." Remembering that the person in question seems to have a mental age of 3, should prosecutors try to get that perp locked up for his role in this peculiar event?
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. Our liberal world has long since lost the ability to speak to wide swaths of the public. Instead, we dream of "locking them up." We're not sure we see a good way out of this cultural impasse.
A final familiar note:
In today's report, Savage becomes the second Times reporter in as many days to discuss the episode in question without mentioning the fact that a bungled New York Times front-page report played a significant role in what happened.
(For yesterday's more egregious dodge, see this report by Michael Schmidt.)
The president never admits a mistake; neither, of course, does the Times. If we might borrow from Don Corleone, this is the culture we've chosen!