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EDITORIAL: Mueller probe must be allowed to proceed
If there’s a Twitter equivalent to a 3-year-old throwing a foot-stomping tantrum, President Donald Trump demonstrated it on Monday.
“There is NO COLLUSION!” Trump tweeted (the caps, as usual, are the president’s).
That remains to be seen following the first significant legal action to come out of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation of Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.
Not only was former Trump Campaign Chairman Paul Manafort indicted by a federal grand jury Monday, along with one of his business associates, Rick Gates, but it was learned a onetime foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his dealings with Russian contacts.
The Manafort and Gates charges, serious though they are — and they are; they include making false and misleading statements to federal authorities, money laundering and “conspiracy against the United States” — represent actions alleged to have occurred largely prior to Manafort’s involvement with the Trump campaign.
The president was quick to point that out, also on Twitter: “Sorry, but this is years ago, before Paul Manafort was part of the Trump campaign.”
Actually, some of the actions bled into 2016 so, characteristically, the president bent the facts to suit himself.
Then, in a classic Trumpian effort at false equivalency-guided misdirection, he added: “Why aren't Crooked Hillary & the Dems the focus?????”
Just as there were not “bad people on both sides” in Charlottesville, Virginia, this past August when white supremacists took their hate-filled rantings public, there is no Clinton-campaign side to the Russian collusion coin.
That the Kremlin actively attempted to use propaganda and hacking to sway the election in Trump’s favor has been established. What Mueller is attempting to ascertain is whether anyone in the Trump campaign was involved.
The guilty plea from the onetime Trump campaign advisor, Paul Papadopoulos, indicates they were.
It will become clear just how closely Papadopoulos was aligned with the campaign, and just how deeply Russian efforts to entice Trump allies reached — as long as Mueller’s investigation continues unimpeded.
That’s where Congress comes in.
While the White House says there are no plans to dismiss Mueller, or otherwise obstruct the investigation, Trump has a history of attempting just that under similar circumstances. Recall, it was his ill-informed firing of former FBI Director James Comey that got the special counsel ball rolling in the first place.
And his abrupt pardon of loathsome former Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio reflects his lack of respect for criminal justice and judicial integrity. Similar pardons in the Mueller investigation could stop the investigation in its tracks.
Two bipartisan bills have been introduced in Congress that would impede presidential efforts to dismiss Mueller. But, remarkably, Republican lawmakers this week say they see no need to pursue them.
“I don’t think anybody in their right mind in the White House would think about replacing Mr. Mueller,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., evidently forgetting who he was referring to.
Democrats, including Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey, have pledged to protect the investigation from White House interference. Republican senators, including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey, have been far less committal. While Casey was saying “the independence of Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation must be respected,” not a word about the Mueller announcements this week could be found from Toomey, not even a statement on his website.
That won’t fly. Anyone who thinks Trump will telegraph plans to disrupt the investigation or act to replace or remove Mueller has not been paying attention. The president is nothing if not unpredictable.
This week’s indictments indicate there is much more to be uncovered. Mueller’s investigation must go where the facts lead. And Congress must act quickly to make sure the president does not attempt to stand in its way.