Robert Mueller's statement made the Democrats look like cowards

Trump sees a Democratic Congress reluctant to wield the impeachment power voters gave it in the midterms. And he may be right.
Image: Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., pauses during a panel discussion at the Delaware County Community College on May 24, 2019, in Media, Pennsylvania.Matt Slocum / AP
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By Kurt Bardella, NBC News THINK contributor

Last November, the American people overwhelmingly elected a new majority in the House of Representatives, giving Democrats the power to impeach President Donald J. Trump — if it was warranted. But Wednesday, special counsel Robert Mueller publicly reiterated what his report already made clear: that “if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.” Put another way, Mueller noted that despite what Trump might think or tweet, he was not an exonerated man.

Democrats have a version of the report, and they have Mueller’s clear interpretation of the facts in it. And what have they done? Issued a lot of strongly worded statements, for one. Why did Democrats ask the American people to grant them the power of the majority if they are so reluctant to use it to protect the sovereignty of Congress?

Why did Democrats ask the American people to grant them the power of the majority if they are so reluctant to use it to protect the sovereignty of Congress?

Trump, perhaps more than any political figure of our time, is preoccupied with the optics of force and strength. What he sees is a Democratic Congress reluctant to wield the power the voters gave them in the midterms. He sees hesitancy and division. Mueller’s report and his subsequent press conference today has only made this clearer.

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Notice that the words “insufficient evidence” were not a part of Mueller’s statement, despite what the president immediately and falsely claimed on Twitter. Also in contrast to Attorney General William Barr’s statement on the report, Mueller never uttered Trump’s favorite and false refrain, “no collusion.”

The other week, I was talking with MSNBC host Joy Reid and she asked me what I thought the difference between Republicans and Democrats was when it came to congressional investigations. I spent the better part of a decade working on Capitol Hill for Republicans, including at the House Oversight Committee during the Obama years. I told her that Republicans love to fight and Democrats love to think.

Republicans view Democrats as the political party that’s scared of its own shadow. Republicans aren’t preoccupied with decency or morality, they just want to win. It’s why the GOP House members always felt like we had an advantage in our fights with the Obama administration over subpoenas and investigations.

Democrats worry about the political ramifications of impeachment and so they make strong statements; they say they won’t tolerate the president’s assault on checks and balances but they do nothing of substance to stop him. Trump sees that inaction as a license to take a sledgehammer to Congress’ oversight authority.

Ironically, the person in Congress who has made the most effective case for impeachment so far has been Republican Rep. Justin Amash. When he held a public town hall forum Tuesday night, he was met with a standing ovation from his constituents. Here, we have a member of Congress willing to defy his own political party. While we do not yet know the potential political cost this action will incur, the people in Amash’s district so far have recognized him for his courage. Will others follow suit? Will his peers think more about doing the right thing and less about the next election?

I think a big reason why so many people in this country have lost faith in Washington is because they know most decisions are made using a complicated political calculus that does not always take into account the wishes or the welfare of the people. This calculus too often turns policymakers into pundits, measuring every move by what they think could happen a year or two from now. Of course, such prognostications can be completely wrong.

Nobody sitting here today can realistically tell you how Congress’ actions today will have an impact on an election 18 months away.

Mueller and his team have evidence that the president of the United States may have committed crimes. So, is the president above the law or not? The American people gave congressional Democrats the power to do a lot of things when they swept them into the majority last November. That includes the power to convene committee hearings, subpoena Cabinet members and even documents. And yes, it also includes the power to begin impeachment proceedings.

So far, the House is trying to use its oversight powers to get to the truth on a number of issues. But generally speaking, Mueller’s report has highlighted how scared the Democrats — especially the Democratic leadership — still are when it comes to wielding the power entrusted to them by the voters.