The Mueller Report has arrived, or as much of it as we have been permitted to see rather. As damning as its evidentiary detail is, it pulls its punches on its critical conclusions and, at one point, offers Donald Trump an escape hatch for his misconduct. The report sweepingly clears the Trump campaign of any collusion or conspiracy with Russia to benefit from its attempts to swing the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. That’s absurd on the face of it given the myriad interactions between the campaign and the Russians. Still stranger is the fact that, as Above the Law reporter Elie Mystal has pointed out, neither Trump nor any member of his family — including Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner, the principals at the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016 that was designed to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton from Russian sources — was interviewed in person about it. Where there’s smoke, folks, there’s generally fire; when the whole forest is covered in it, you can bank on a blaze.
As to the second major area of the report’s investigation, obstruction of justice, the rollout of Trump’s attempts to scotch the investigation of Russia’s meddling in the campaign is a deafening litany. Even here, Mueller found no adequate grounds to make a call, saying merely that he could not “exonerate” Trump (in any case, not his function). And he provided Trump with the excuse he was looking for, namely that the President apparently believed that the Special Counsel investigations were an attempt by enemies to destroy him. Did Mueller believe that he or his predecessor, James Comey, had actually given cause for such a belief? Or does he think that paranoia was a reasonable excuse to derail a lawful investigation? I’ll be curious to hear more about this when Mueller testifies to Congress.
Although conspiracy with a foreign power or willful obstruction of justice are certainly grounds for presidential impeachment, I’d like to offer a more fundamental basis for it in Trump’s case. Put simply, he has violated the two most critical constitutional provisions for the exercise of his office. They are both stipulated in Article 2, Section 3. The first is the oath of office itself, which requires each incoming president to “preserve, protect and defend” the Constitution itself, with its enumerated powers, responsibilities and liberties. The second is the so-called Take Care Clause, which requires that the president “take care that the laws be faithfully executed.”
Trump has not only violated these requirements, repeatedly and egregiously, but has also shown himself to lack the most elementary comprehension of them. Simply put, he has demonstrated on a nearly daily basis that he neither knows nor cares what the Constitution says and is thus incapable of fulfilling his oath of office. He is equally unfit to faithfully execute the laws, since, in the words of New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, he “holds the law and truth in utter contempt” — insofar, I might add, as he understands either.
Cohen’s comment links law and truth for a simple reason: they are inseparably connected. You cannot conceive of law if you do not comprehend truth. It is not merely that Trump lies; in psychiatric terms, he fabulates, which means that he not only makes statements without regard for facts, but that he constructs the world in terms of stories agreeable to him. Two early examples became famous: he falsely claimed to have had the largest inaugural crowd in history, and to have won the popular vote in his election by the amount that he actually lost it. When this latter claim was disputed, he appointed a commission to prove it. When it failed to do so, he disbanded it without abandoning the claim. To Trump, truth was the story that best suited him.
There is another term for fabulation, as journalists Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic point out: bullsh—ing. Bullsh—ing, in Harry Frankfurt’s formulation, is telling a story without regard for its truth or falsity. And bullsh-t, as Wittes and Jurecic point out, “is a kind of opposite of law,” since law is at the bottom of the application of rules to factually established conditions. Trump himself understands bullsh—ing, but only as applied to others; thus, while he at first described the Mueller Report as fully exonerating him, he characterized it as “bulls–t” the moment it actually appeared.
It doesn’t really matter whether Trump’s bullsh—ing is a psychiatric condition or cynical tale-spinning whose only object is self-interest. Probably, both descriptions apply. Either way, they disable Trump from upholding the law, and therefore from holding his office.
The consequences of this have been predictably dire. Trump has been trying to destroy Obamacare since his first day in office. Having failed to remove it by act of Congress, he undermined it by withholding proper access and funding for it — meaning he did everything in his power not to uphold it. He has issued executive orders, such as the one notoriously aimed at barring all Muslims from entering the country that the courts have repeatedly rejected. He has perverted the statutory mandates of federal agencies, seeking to bend them to his own will. He improperly declared a national emergency in defiance of Congress, denying asylum seekers their rights under both American and international law. While attempting to usurp Congress’ power of the purse, he shut down critical sections of the government, thereby blocking much of the executive branch from exercising its own legal functions. Far from simply failing to uphold the law, he has deliberately stymied it.
One could multiply these examples manyfold; what they amount to is arbitrary government by a would-be tyrant who regards his will alone as law. That isn’t protecting the Constitution; it’s demolishing it. That isn’t upholding the law; it’s mocking it. As professor of economics Jeffrey Sachs has put it, “Each day [Trump] remains in power is a day closer to the collapse of the rule of law”. And the Constitution itself clearly dictates what we owe it, ourselves and the country’s future. Any excuse for delay is a dereliction of duty. Any attempt to punt the reckoning forward, and to leave to voters the remedy their representatives are charged with and their own oath of office demands of them, is an abdication that joins them to this president’s infamy. If you see the law being broken and do nothing about it, you break the law yourself. If you merely gather evidence and fail to act, the lawbreaker’s crime is also your own. It’s as simple as that.
Article one of the impeachment of Donald J. Trump: he has willfully violated his oath of office to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States and to take care that its laws be faithfully executed.