As you probably know from last week’s news coverage, Sen. Cory Gardner is very much ready to “move on” from the investigation into Russian support for Donald Trump in the 2016 elections, after the release this week of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report that supporters of the President desperately want America to think “totally vindicates” Trump.
Gardner is smart enough to avoid the words “exoneration” or “vindication,” but his desire to stop talking about this is clear:
The Special Counsel report made public today includes the release of as much information as is consistent with U.S. law. Now that the report is public, it’s time for Congress to move forward and get to work on behalf of the American people.
— Cory Gardner (@SenCoryGardner) April 18, 2019
Despite Attorney General William Barr’s widely-panned attempt to spin the report ahead of its release Thursday, upon which Gardner and a large swath of the GOP based their own “let’s move on” statements immediately after, the report’s actual contents are very far from exonerating–documenting a President who repeatedly attempted to obstruct justice after his presidential campaign, if not collusively than as the willing beneficiary, freely trafficked in information illegally obtained by Russian intelligence agencies to discredit his opponent.
On Friday, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah, admittedly well known for his on-again off-again criticism of President Trump relative to his own political aspirations, unleashed a broadside against Trump that left Gardner and every other Republican who sent out a “let’s move on” statement on Thursday looking like collaborationist stooges at best:
“I am sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office in the land, including the president,” the Utah Republican wrote. [Pols emphasis] He said that he was also “appalled” that members of the Trump campaign welcomed assistance from Russia.
However, Romney said at the beginning of his statement that he believed it was “good news” that there was insufficient evidence to charge the president of obstruction of justice. The special counsel’s office punted on the issue, not coming to a conclusion as to whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.
The report provided evidence of 10 “discrete acts” where the president may have obstructed justice. In one instance, Mr. Trump asked then-White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire the special counsel. McGahn refused to do so. When The New York Times later reported Mr. Trump’s request to McGahn, Mr. Trump asked McGahn to say the president never requested that Mueller be fired. McGahn again refused to do so, as the reports were accurate.
“Reading the report is a sobering revelation of how far we have strayed from the aspirations and principles of the founders,” Romney wrote.
There is speculation this weekend about the possibility that Romney might even mount a primary challenge against Trump next year after these very harsh comments, bitterly at odds with the GOP party line that the investigation found “no crime” and Trump is in the clear. Even if that doesn’t happen, Romney’s very strong attack on Trump’s character and honesty, which he can’t take back even in the very possible event he tries, significantly complicates Gardner’s recent wholesale embrace of Trump.
If he is forced to keep talking about this at all, Gardner would much rather talk about Russia than Trump’s campaign. The problem is, you can’t simply talk about Russian interference in the 2016 elections without reckoning with the universally acknowledged objective of their interference–to elect Donald Trump President of the United States.
And that’s where we arrive at questions that not even Mitt Romney has the courage to ask.
Because the hard questions are not about Russia. They’re about the Republican Party.