This editorial was first published in the Providence Journal (Providence, Rhode Island), a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.
For nearly two years, special counsel Robert Mueller and his team investigated something that never happened: collusion between the Russian government and members of the Trump campaign to sway the 2016 election. Indeed, the evidence of collusion turned out to be so thin that it seems puzzling a special counsel was appointed in the first place.
Taxpayers have spent upwards of $25 million investigating this matter, with the issuance of more than 2,800 subpoenas and nearly 500 search warrants, while a cloud of scandal has hung over the Trump administration.
Attorney General William Barr released Mr. Mueller’s 448-page report in redacted form last week. While it shields grand jury testimony and ongoing investigations (roughly 10 percent of the report is redacted), it includes ugly details that point to Mr. Trump’s shady behavior, and does not shed a positive light on his values or ethics. Even though testimony before a grand jury is kept secret under our system of justice, because the subject is not permitted to mount a defense during that part of the process, leaders in Congress should have access to the unredacted report.
Still, Mr. Mueller found no evidence of Russian collusion with Mr. Trump, or his team, which was the purpose of the probe.
The investigators also concluded they could not charge the president with obstruction of justice, though he talked about ending the investigation prematurely. In the end, Mr. Trump provided 1.4 million pages of documents, supplied staffers to be interviewed at length by Mr. Mueller’s team, and declined to assert executive privilege to shield himself from elements of the final report. (Special counsel reports are no longer public documents. The administration wisely released most of it anyway.) Nor did Mr. Trump ultimately hamper the investigation, though he repeatedly called it a “witch hunt.”
Ironically, stopping the investigation is something the president would have been constitutionally entitled to do, since the voters elect a president to oversee the Justice Department, which was running the Mueller probe. In theory, a president has the authority to stop an investigation he believes to be baseless and politically motivated before it ends up costing taxpayers tens of millions of dollars. Fortunately for him, his aides tamped down his rage and let the process play out, lest he appear to be hiding something and inflame bipartisan opposition in Congress.
Rhode Island’s Democratic congressional delegation is calling for more information. It is vitally important that the public be fully informed of what prompted the investigation, and of any other salient details uncovered.
Given that Mr. Mueller found no collusion and recommended no charges against Mr. Trump, such seasoned Democrats as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer have tamped down talk about impeachment, fearing that would ruin the party’s chances in swing districts that Democrats carried to capture the House in 2018.
There may be wisdom in that. We have suggested Democrats would be wise to shift from an over-emphasis on investigating the president to getting the message out about how their approach to governance is superior to his. It is important that concern about Mr. Trump’s behavior not be the only Democratic theme that gets through to voters.