Trump also lied about paying off two women who have alleged to have had sexual affairs with him. Initially, the president said he knew nothing about the payments. Later, he acknowledged learning about them. And Cohen later said in court that Trump had instructed him to make the payments, effectively implicating Trump in a crime—in an account implicitly backed by federal prosecutors.
Whether Trump formally committed the crime of obstruction of justice remains unlitigated, but he has fought relentlessly to undermine and block the Russia investigation, mostly recently in a tweet Friday morning saying, “The Witch Hunt, so bad for our Country, must end!” According to contemporaneous quotes from James Comey, Trump pressured the then–FBI director to drop an investigation into Flynn. He fired Comey after he declined to do so. He lambasted former Attorney General Jeff Sessions both publicly and privately for recusing himself from Russia-related matters and refusing to end the probe. He has threatened Mueller publicly and reportedly attempted to fire him. According to a recent Times story, Trump tried to have his handpicked U.S. attorney take over an investigation from the Southern District of New York. His cries of “witch hunt” have become so frequent that they barely penetrate the consciousness. By any plain-English definition, he has worked strenuously to obstruct a full accounting of his actions.
Taken together, these incidents paint a vivid and consistent portrait of a president who is chronically dishonest, does not respect the rule of law, is frantic to avoid being investigated, hires people without strong ethical bearings, and placed himself in a position to be compromised by Russia during the campaign. (This doesn’t even get into the chaos and mismanagement of his presidency, the many scandals of his Cabinet members, his boasting about sexual assault, his encouragement of attacks on the press, and any number of other offenses.)
Yoni Appelbaum: Impeach Donald Trump
Whether one believes that this merits impeachment, should simply guarantee that Trump is not reelected in 2020, or is entirely acceptable is largely a matter of personal taste and political allegiance. But if one is not already convinced that the president’s behavior is unacceptable, it would require an immense revelation to change one’s mind—if that’s even possible. Conversely, if one looks at these facts and believes they merit impeachment (or another sanction), then standing sentry for a nebulously timed, nebulously structured report hardly seems worth the effort.
One possible reason for the anticipation is the expectation that Mueller’s report will vindicate Trump—which the president is likely to claim no matter what it says. But as the preceding recitation of facts shows, it’s already far too late for vindication. Another reason for anticipation is the hope among Trump critics that a final smoking gun might emerge that will cause a substantial group of Republican members of Congress to break from Trump. There may well be bombshells in Mueller’s report, or in indictments between now and then; the special counsel has repeatedly shocked even close observers with new revelations and details. But the number of smoking guns already in plain sight make it hard to believe that a new one will have an effect on Trump’s GOP allies that the earlier ones haven’t.
Mueller’s report, or whatever version of it the public sees, will be an important document, whenever it emerges. But it needn’t, and probably won’t, radically change anything about the basic story. You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and you don’t need a special counsel’s report to know what kind of president Trump is.