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EDITORIAL: The worst 'best day' in presidential history

York Dispatch Editorial Board

In assessing the long-awaited release of the (redacted) report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election Thursday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway declared it was “the best day” since President Trump’s election.

As usual, she couldn’t be further from the truth.

The 448-page report may have absolved President Donald Trump & Co. of collusion but by any other measure it is a damning document. The report paints a picture of unethical, immoral and questionably legal behavior in painstaking — and often simply painful — detail. Among the findings:

  • White House Communications Director Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted she lied to the American people about the reasons President Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey.
  • Members of the morally ambiguous Trump presidential campaign met scores of times with Russian operatives while Trump lied about having no dealings with Russia (he was in negotiations to build a hotel in Moscow).
  • Donald Trump Jr. barely escaped charges in connection with his meeting with a Russian agent in part, stated the report, because the Mueller team would have had difficulty proving that Trump Jr. had a “culpable mental state.”
  • President Trump tried repeatedly to seize control of or derail the Mueller probe — the report outlines a dozen such efforts. Still, because his efforts were unsuccessful, owing largely to the failure of his aides to carry out ill-advised or questionably legal orders, he avoided charges of obstruction of justice. Talk about failing upward.

That the report was released only after Attorney General William Barr first provided his own pro-Trump pre-release spin was another low point — a thoroughly disappointing and inappropriate one.

FILE - In this Feb. 12, 2019, file photo,President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci, File)


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“The attorney general seemed almost to be acting as the counselor for the defense, or the counselor for the president, rather than the attorney general,” observed Fox News’ Chris Wallace.

When even the talking heads at Fox News marvel at the enormity of the partisanship, a new level of dirty dealing has been reached.

Barr’s handling of the report, from his partisan four-page assessment nearly a month ago to Thursday’s efforts to run defense for Trump, brings infamy to the attorney general’s office and shame to every one of the 55 senators — including Pennsylvania’s Pat Toomey — who whisked him into office in February in a mostly party-line vote.

There is much yet to be digested in the Mueller report. Belying Trump’s oft-tweeted fantasies about the “angry Democrats” running the investigation, lifelong Republican Mueller and his team appear to have adhered to an extremely rigid interpretation of conspiracy and, especially, obstruction of justice. Perhaps that is as it should be when it comes to the presidency. (Somebody’s got to respect the office, and it darned sure ain’t the current occupant.)

The investigation has already resulted in indictments, convictions or guilty pleas from 34 people, including Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and onetime campaign manager. And several investigations spun off from the Mueller probe continue apace, while oversight in the newly Democratic-controlled House is just gearing up after two years of Republican negligence. (Mueller has been asked to testify later this month.)

But all of that aside, voters should think long and hard about the portrait the Mueller report paints of the president, his minions, his mindset and his motives.

As a candidate, Trump was indifferent at best (and more often encouraging) to efforts from Russian-connected interests to tilt the election in his favor.

As president, his characteristic aversion to the rule of law punctuated ongoing efforts to deep-six the Mueller probe — from Constitutionally frightening attempts like trying to order former White House Counsel Don McGhan to fire Mueller to comically asinine ideas like asking former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to “unrecuse” himself.

The Mueller report was a long way from an exoneration of President Donald Trump. And if its release was the best day of Trump’s presidency, heaven help us all.