Looming Mueller report will test Congress

A letter from 44 former United States senators published in The Washington Post Monday and reprinted by The Day went straight to the heart of the perilous situation faced by President Donald Trump, the Congress and the country.

“As former members of the U.S. Senate, Democrats and Republicans, it is our shared view that we are entering a dangerous period,” the letter begins. “We feel an obligation to speak up about serious challenges to the rule of law, the Constitution, our governing institutions and our national security.”

The senators who sent the letter included 32 Democrats, 10 Republicans and two independents. Former Connecticut senators Lowell Weicker, Chris Dodd and Joe Lieberman signed it.

The letter noted that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump, his presidential campaign, and his administration, is ending. A report from Mueller with the investigation’s findings is expected soon. That report may prompt the House of Representatives to consider impeachment.

“We are at an inflection point in which the foundational principles of our democracy and our national security interests are at stake,” the senators wrote. “The rule of law and the ability of our institutions to function freely and independently must be upheld.”

The letter was published on the heels of court filings from both Mueller and federal prosecutors from the Southern District of New York that delivered added woes for Trump.

Trump is under scrutiny from prosecutors investigating his conduct in his private business, his campaign for president, and as president. Friday’s court filings centered on two key areas:

•Russian Collusion: Mueller filed sentencing recommendations for Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to lying to the special prosecutor. The Mueller documents drew a connection between Trump’s efforts to expand his hotel business into Russia through Cohen and the multiple contacts between Russian government operatives and members of Trump’s campaign effort.

“If the (hotel) project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues,” the Mueller filing stated. “The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 (President Trump) well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and (special council office) SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election.”

This new information adds to 14 other known contacts between Trump campaign workers and Russians between late 2015 and the end of 2016.

• Hush Money Payments: Southern District of New York federal prosecutors filed court papers implicating Trump in a crime. Attorney Cohen had testified that his client Trump directed him to make a $130,000 payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels to suppress stories about an alleged affair. Prosecutors labeled that payment a campaign finance violation because of the timing; the money was paid to prevent a negative story becoming public that could hurt Trump’s presidential bid.

Justice Department procedures discourage special prosecutors from issuing indictments to sitting presidents. But that only applies to Mueller. The court filings indicate the Southern District is contemplating a criminal charge against Trump.

The president either does not recognize the looming crisis or is creating a fictional reality as a counter. Trump’s response to Friday’s twin court filings was more disinformation via Twitter rants. Trump seems convinced he can manufacture an alternative truth that his supporters will believe over the findings of Mueller’s final report.

For all the bluster, Trump is powerless to halt the Mueller investigation from issuing its final report. Nor can Trump halt the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives from taking Mueller’s findings and launching new investigations.

The danger signs for the president are manifestly evident. The country is facing an intense political drama and constitutional challenge. The need for calm, wise and nonpartisan leadership is urgent.

That’s what makes the open letter sent by the former senators to The Post so timely. They are pleading with their successors to rise above party politics for the good of the country.

“Regardless of party affiliation, ideological leanings or geography,” the letter concludes, “as former members of this great body, we urge current and future senators to be steadfast and zealous guardians of our democracy by ensuring that partisanship or self-interest not replace national interest.”

Amen.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Pat Richardson, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, retired Day editor Lisa McGinley, Managing Editor Tim Cotter and Staff Writer Julia Bergman. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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