Two years of angry outbursts, hearings, and indictments later, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election has finally been released to the public. Beyond the revelations about possible obstruction of justice and the ongoing Russian entanglement, the findings of the report has validated the concerns of many Americans: President Donald Trump has pushed the boundaries of the law and our checks and balances have failed to hold him accountable. The report outlined Trump’s blatant abuse of power and has reconfirmed that nothing that Trump does will cause Republicans to break from him. Without the proper push back from Congress, Trump will have successfully undermined the legitimacy of American democratic institutions.
Leading up to the Thursday release, Attorney General William Barr held a press conference summarizing the special counsel’s report. Instead of presenting the report’s findings, Barr offered a staunch defense of President Trump’s actions. This event has raised serious concerns that Barr has become Trump’s personal attorney rather than the nation’s top law enforcement officer. Barr’s misrepresentation of the report’s findings and disregard for even the appearance of impartiality is a serious blow to American institutions and the rule of law.
From the very beginning, Trump has been very vocal about his animosity towards the “fake news” media. The President has used his personal Twitter to go as far to incite violence against certain outlets in his attempts to undermine news coverage. And yet, the release of the report has most importantly highlighted the key role that investigative journalism played in uncovering key turning points. The Mueller report cites multiple different news outlets such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN for helping provide important bombshell documents and televised interviews that helped the special counsel’s investigation. Trump’s efforts to undermine the media reveals an alarming pattern of disrespecting key institutions of democracies through his executive powers.
Trump has also been very vocal about his lack of respect for Mueller’s investigation. The President has denounced the investigation time and time again as an unsubstantiated “witch hunt” and as a power grab orchestrated by the Democrats. Trump’s claims that the entire investigation was a conspiracy only further encourages distrust within his voter base towards democratic institutions. And yet, the report outlines Trump’s numerous attempts to obstruct justice. Trump asked his aides to take actions that would have obstructed the investigation, but were ultimately unsuccessful because the aides refused his orders. Trump’s refusal to accept the Mueller probe’s legitimacy continues to be dangerous for American democracy. If the President remains confident that he can override the institutionally checks and balances in place, he will continue to misuse his executive powers.
Democratic erosion has existed prior to the Trump administration. However, the damage has only intensified and accelerated under the tumultuous presidency. Although Mueller’s report was unable to reach a conclusion, it also did not exonerate the President. Ultimately, the special counsel provided a recommendation that Congress should assume responsibility to hold Trump accountable. Given his many legal constraints, Mueller expects Congress to pick up the reigns and rely on courts and prosecutors to uphold the rule of law.
As for now, Congress has shown some action by pushing Barr to testify on the report before the Senate and House Judiciary Committees in May. Democrats are also moving to bring in Mueller to testify next month as well. As long as Congress continues take action on the report, there is still hope that there will be some consequences. Although there is no clear consensus on what should happen next, congressional dormancy is not a valid action.
If Trump is not held accountable for his violations, democratic erosion in American institutions will be inevitable. This entire ordeal has sent a dangerous precedent for democracy but has also shown the limits of checks and balances within the government if not properly utilized.