Even setting that aside, the Mueller report sets out substantial evidence that Trump criminally obstructed justice in at least some instances. The former Justice Department and FBI official Chuck Rosenberg has said that, in the absence of the Justice Department guidelines against the indictment of a sitting president, as a prosecutor, he would have brought an obstruction case against Trump. Former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates have made similar arguments. And while lawbreaking is not required for impeachment, it is notable both that all three serious efforts to impeach a president in U.S. history have involved allegations of legal violations and that two of those three instances—against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton—concerned criminal behavior, specifically obstruction of justice.
Yoni Appelbaum: The Mueller report is an impeachment referral
But any discussion of impeachment that focuses on the Mueller report alone, much less the possible criminal conduct detailed in the report, risks leaving out the obvious. The potentially impeachable offenses committed by the president go far, far beyond the scope of what Mueller investigated. Any impeachment inquiry should consider that conduct as well.
For example, Benjamin Wittes and Jane Chong, my colleagues at Lawfare, argued way back in August 2017 that Trump’s pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio merited consideration in an impeachment inquiry. Arpaio, remember, was convicted of criminal contempt for his refusal to cease detaining people only on the suspicion that they had flouted immigration law. According to The Washington Post, Trump first asked then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions whether the Justice Department could drop the prosecution of Arpaio, then decided to pardon him if Arpaio was convicted at trial. How else to describe this process but as abuse of power?
What about his recent instructions to Border Patrol officers, as reported by CNN, to disobey the courts in turning back asylum seekers? His repeated calls for the criminal prosecution of his political rivals? His demands for the U.S. Postal Service to dramatically raise rates for shipping Amazon packages, for no obvious reason other than to punish Amazon CEO and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos? His rescinding of the security clearances of a number of his high-profile critics, including former FBI Director James Comey and former CIA Director John Brennan? Or consider his repeated decisions to overrule his own intelligence agencies in declassifying sensitive information related to the Russia investigation in order to score political points, with apparent disregard for the potential consequences to the country.
Chong and Wittes have pointed to another category of potential offenses: failures of moral leadership. Here, too, the list is so long as to be impossible to reproduce in a paragraph, but to name a few: Trump’s attacks on the press as “fake news” and “the enemy of the people”; his declaration that the white nationalists and neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville were “very fine people;” his description of Haiti, El Salvador, and various African nations as “shithole countries;” his repeated—and arguably libelous—abuse of private citizens as having committed treason; his lies—which, by The Washington Post’s count, now number more than 10,000.