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Thursday, May 30, 2019
“It is now time for House Democrats to follow his lead, and do what must be done. An impeachment inquiry must now be launched”—Jeffrey C. Isaac
“Robert Mueller’s public statement [yesterday] was, apparently, ‘vintage Mueller’—I say apparently because I don’t know this guy at all, and am relying on the comments of those who do. He was careful, concise, by the book, and delivered with all the dispassion he could muster.
“Mueller essentially reiterated what has already been clear: (1) his investigation was a professional endeavor warranted by overwhelming evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and was the farthest thing from a ‘witch hunt’ or a ‘coup’; (2) the report which resulted from the probe contains substantial evidence of Trump campaign cooperation with the Russian effort, even if not ‘criminal conspiracy’; (3) the report contains more substantial evidence of Trump’s obstruction of justice, but it did not recommend criminal indictment for one simple reason: such a recommendation was inconsistent with Justice Department rules, and thus with Mueller’s charge as a Justice employee; (4) it is for Congress to decide whether and how to act on the evidence contained in the report.
“Mueller stated that he did not wish to say anything else ‘in this manner,’ i.e., in unprompted public testimony, and that if called to testify before Congress, he would do little more than reiterate what he has said here, which is that ‘the report is my testimony.’ Fair enough. Mueller is a by-the-book ex-Marine, a professional federal prosecutor who is scrupulous about his job and its limits.
“His very terse judiciousness puts the lie to White House claims of ‘witch hunt.’ And in his own exceedingly legalistic way, Mueller is now the second Republican in [three] days—and Mueller is most definitely a registered Republican—to make plain that it is Congress that has a Constitutional responsibility to deal with the evidence contained in his Report. The first is Republican Congressman Justin Amash, who yesterday held a town meeting explaining to his constituents—in language much bolder and more emphatic than Mueller’s—that an impeachment inquiry is necessary.
“It is both ironic and embarrassing that it is now two Republicans who are schooling Nancy Pelosi and her so-called Democratic ‘leadership team’ about the responsibilities of Congress. It is now for Congressional Democrats to take the lead in moving the process forward. And an impeachment inquiry is the only way to move it forward in a powerful, publicly-focused way.
“And the first order of business of such an investigation will be to invite, and if necessary subpoena, Mueller to testify. He might not want to testify. He might truly believe that the report is his testimony. But that is not for him to decide. And if he has clearly demonstrated the backbone to stand by his sense of professional responsibility, it is not for House Democratic leaders to demonstrate their backbone in the performance of their responsibilities, by requiring Mueller to testify. Because, here's the problem, the report does not ‘speak for itself.’
“And there are a great many procedural questions that really need to be answered—questions that are not contained in the report but are about the report—related to how the investigation chose to limit itself, and how it decided who to interview and how not to interview (Don Jr.?), and what other information relevant to Congressional oversight was turned over to other Justice Department probes.
“Mueller must be required to speak about these things, in a careful and serious way, by answering careful and serious questions put before him by Congressional inquirers, in a public hearing. In order for this to happen, House Democratic leaders must get serious about their responsibilities and about politics: a careful, well-organized impeachment process, designed to expose the malfeasance of the Trump administration, is both constitutionally necessary and politically necessary to weaken this dangerous president, so that he can be legitimately defeated in November 2020.
“This requires a very honest, transparent, and public process, designed to inform the public at large. Without such a process, the information contained in the Mueller report—the truth uncovered by the Mueller investigation—will remain obscured, mute, irrelevant, and thus null. For in order for the truth to have the power of truth, it must be properly communicated.
“John Dewey explained this well in his 1927 classic, The Public and its Problems, where he criticized this naivete of ‘scholastics’ who imagine that ‘truth’ is ever self-evident: ‘The schools may suppose that a thing is known when it is found out… [but] a thing is fully known only when it is published, shared, socially accessible. Record and communication are indispensable to knowledge. Knowledge cooped upon in a private consciousness is a myth, and knowledge of social phenomena is peculiarly dependent upon dissemination… A fact of community life which is not spread abroad so as to be a common possession is a contradiction in terms. Dissemination is something other than scattering at large. Seeds are sown. Not by virtue of being thrown out at random, but by being so distributed as to take root and have a chance of growth…’
“The knowledge contained in the Mueller Report must truly become public knowledge. This can only happen through a public process of communication of the report and about the report. And this process must be more than simply a ‘scattering at large’ of information. It must be a deliberate (and deliberative) process centered on the sharing of a range of facts, inquiry and debate about the meaning of the facts, and then action on the facts.
“Only impeachment can accomplish this now. Mueller must speak in public, before Congress, as part of a broader inquiry into the many ways that President Trump and his administration represent a clear and present danger to constitutional democracy. Mueller all but invited this conclusion in his very terse comments [yesterday]. It is now time for House Democrats to follow his lead, and do what must be done. An impeachment inquiry must now be launched.
Jeffrey C. Isaac is James H. Rudy Professor of Political Science at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include: Democracy in Dark Times (1998); The Poverty of Progressivism: The Future of American Democracy in a Time of Liberal Decline; and Arendt, Camus, and Modern Rebellion.