About a month ago, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, running with one of Attorney General Bill Barr’s misleading memos, declared the end of Donald Trump’s troubles. Referring to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, the president’s chief spokesperson said, “We consider this to be case closed.”
That was more than two weeks before anyone had seen the redacted version of the Mueller report.
Now, the most powerful member of Trump’s party on Capitol Hill intends to echo the White House’s dubious conclusion.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will lay out his case to move on from investigations into President Trump and his 2016 campaign, calling the matter “case closed” even as Democrats intensify their probes into Trump’s conduct.
McConnell (R-Ky.), who faces reelection next year, argues that Democrats are continuing to relitigate an election result that is now more than two years old, and plans to make a detailed argument in a floor speech Tuesday morning to declare the matter finished and instead focus on legislation.
I see. So in 2016, when McConnell was given an opportunity to counter Russian efforts to intervene in our elections in order to put Trump in power, the Kentucky Republican balked. In 2019, as Americans come to terms with the results of an investigation into Russia’s election attack – and the steps his party’s president took to obstruct, mislead, and derail that investigation – McConnell would appreciate it if we all just stop asking so many darned questions.
One of the core problems with the Senate majority leader’s reported posture is that the case is anything but closed. The special counsel’s office documented several instances, for example, in which the president’s conduct met the statutory threshold for criminal obstruction, but Mueller left it to others to decide how best to address the allegations going forward.
That’s not a “closed” case; it’s the opposite. McConnell may be indifferent to Trump allegedly crossing legal lines, but the rule of law is not dependent on the senator’s interest.
Complicating matters, as Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) noted in an op-ed the other day, “According to the Mueller report, the special counsel’s office ‘periodically identified evidence of potential criminal activity that was outside of the scope of the Special Counsel’s jurisdiction’ and referred that evidence to other Justice Department components. There are 14 such referrals referenced in the Mueller report, 12 of which are redacted.”
The Democratic senator’s point was that Barr has a responsibility to recuse himself from those cases, and it’s easy to agree with Durbin’s conclusion. But as this relates to McConnell, it’s a reminder of all the many open cases uncovered by the special counsel investigation – which, again, is at odds with the whole “case closed” mantra.
What’s more, the Mueller probe is but one of many. As the Washington Post’s Aaron Blake added this morning, “There is the Southern District of New York’s investigation, which has implicated Trump in Michael Cohen’s criminal campaign finance violations. There are the questions about Trump’s finances and his still-unreleased tax returns, which Mueller didn’t deal with in his report. The New York Times reported that Trump and his siblings obtained their father’s wealth through, in some cases, ‘outright fraud.’”
By all accounts, McConnell doesn’t care about any of this. He’d prefer that lawmakers, journalists, and voters simply move on.
Even putting aside the Senate majority leader’s curious apathy toward legal accountability, I’m curious about the obvious follow-up question: move on to what, exactly?
McConnell’s party doesn’t have a policy agenda to speak of, and if there’s one thing the Senate majority leader has made painfully clear in recent years, it’s that he’s not overly fond of making concessions to Democrats in the interest of bipartisan cooperation.
Indeed, let’s not forget that the Kentucky Republican has controlled the floor of the U.S. Senate all year and there’s little evidence of him eagerly pushing major legislative solutions to the nation’s most pressing challenges. On the contrary, McConnell has focused on confirming far-right judicial nominees – and little else.
A cynic might wonder if McConnell’s remarks today are less about his sincere interest in governing and more about hollow partisan antics.