The unexpected morning appearance of Special Counsel Robert Mueller offered a unique opportunity. Though the ten minute statement offered no information that was not already in the published report, Mueller used the opportunity not just to announce that he was leaving his role and ending the investigation, but to emphasize those points of the report he thought most significant.
- Russia interfered in the election expressly to help Donald Trump.
- Trump engaged in multiple efforts to obstruct the investigation.
- Only DOJ regulations prevented Trump from being indicted.
- The Constitution provides a single way to deal with Trump’s crimes.
- All of this is important and deserves the attention of every American.
With Mueller leaving, Republicans are already writing this off as the end of the investigation. But Democrats in Congress, as well as 2020 Democratic candidates, seized on this moment to highlight on what everyone should have already known—Trump has committed multiple, significant crimes, and Congress has an obligation to begin an impeachment inquiry. Mueller’s remarks make this the one day in which it seems possible to break through the screen of fud that Trump, William Barr, and every other Republican has thrown up around the special counsel report. Which makes it all the more painful that the most visible Democrats shied away from using this moment, and momentum, to produce a strong message and clear leadership.
Robert Mueller’s reluctance to openly say the word “impeachment” might be understandable, but it’s harder to think of good reasons why Democratic leaders should be so shy of the term at this late date. Nancy Pelosi insisted that Congress “holds sacred its constitutional authority to investigate and hold the president responsible for his abuse of power” and that the House will continue to “investigate and legislate to protect our elections.” Jerry Nadler called for a live press event immediately following Mueller’s statement, which made it appear he was going to say something significant. But not only did Nadler fail to join the call for impeachment, he didn’t even use that moment to insist that he would subpoena Mueller’s testimony.
In an appearance at the Commonwealth Club, Pelosi continued to be solidly nowhere. “Nothing is off the table, but we do want to make such a compelling case, such an ironclad case, that the Republican Senate … will be convinced of the path that we have to take as a country.” In other words … no.
And not every presidential candidate was ready to step up. While many of those seeking the 2020 nomination were ready to issue clear, powerful calls, Joe Biden declared himself in agreement with Pelosi, fussing that upholding the constitutional role of Congress would be “divisive.” If anything, Biden managed to display less leadership than anyone—apparently convinced he can coast to the nomination without taking a position on anything.