Our Opinion: House Democrats' constitutional responsibility
Special Counsel Robert Mueller's statements this week on his investigation into Russian influence on the 2016 election and Trump campaign complicity didn't stray from what was written in his report. but they have stoked debate to yet another level. More Democrats are calling for impeachment and President Trump's reaction was disturbingly overwrought and contradictory.
The president, who first claimed that the report exonerated him and said he was fine with its release, began criticizing the report days later and said it should be kept secret. Following Mr. Mueller's statement that he could not clear the president of obstruction justice and at least suggested that Congress take the next step in the process, Mr. Trump Thursday attacked Mr. Mueller, without any evidence, of being out to get him and in conflict of interest. The president tweeted that "I had nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected," before declaring on the White House lawn 30 minutes later that "Russia did not help me get elected."
There is no disputing that Russia attempted to help Mr. Trump win election in 2016 and that campaign aides worked with Russian emissaries to that end. There is solid evidence that Mr. Trump obstructed the investigation into his campaign's activities and that the cover-up continues today with his refusal to release relevant material to House investigators and prevention of aides from testifying before Congress. Mr. Mueller, according to critics, "punted" the issue to House Democrats, and Democrats, having received the punt, are debating how to move upfield.
At an editorial meeting at The Eagle Friday, Democratic U.S. Senator Edward Markey said it is the "constitutional responsibility" of House Democrats, who are in the majority as opposed to their Senate counterparts, to conduct a full investigation into the administration's Russian ties. The senator was in Pittsfield to deliver the commencement address to graduates at Berkshire Community College.
The senator said the House should demand the unredacted Mueller report and summon anyone with relevant information to testify, including Mr. Mueller, who said last week he preferred not to speak further. The special counsel should say if he would have asked the grand jury for an indictment on obstruction of justice if the president were not protected by Justice Dept. policy on indicting a sitting president. Mr. Markey added that the House should also explore efforts to block the release of information by Mr. Trump that "would make Richard Nixon blush."
The investigation should determine if impeachment proceedings are justified, said the senator. We remain skeptical of impeachment because it would reach a dead end in the Republican-controlled Senate and could lead to a backlash against Democrats seeking election in red and purple states. The House could considering censuing the president, which the Senate could not overturn.
However, the 2020 presidential campaign is well underway, and if the House investigation produces more specifics about Russian involvement with the Trump campaign in 2016 it will certainly be fodder for that campaign. Because the 2020 campaign may be marred once again by Russian influence, the House must not only get to the bottom of the Trump-Russia connection in 2016 it must explore ways of preventing a similar debacle in 2020. That, too, is a constitutional responsibility that Democrats must accept.
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