Good Press about our Recent Book

Some of you know that a colleague from Whitworth and I wrote and published a book Challenged and Changed about Whitworth University’s Central America Study and Service Program, CASP, which dates back to 1975. The program is a hidden jewel of the university and has had a transformative impact on the hundreds of students who have participated in it. The book is available at https://wipfandstock.com/challenged-and-changed.html

Recently, the Spokane Fig Tree newspaper interviewed us and published a good article about the program. You can access it at https://www.thefigtree.org/jan20/010120whitworthcasp.html

Happy reading!

A Potential War with Iran and the Attempt to get Reelected

It is well known that governments that are facing domestic problems often go to war in order to rally public support behind their failing administration. They hope that a majority of their citizens, in a spirit of nationalism, (not genuine patriotism), will overlook the domestic issues and come to the support of the executive branch of the government. This is what happened forty years ago when the failing government of Argentina went to war with England over the Falkland Islands.

In light of this political strategy, the following quote is illustrative:

“Our president will start a war with Iran because he has absolutely no ability to negotiate. He’s weak and he’s ineffective. So, the only way he figures that he’s going to get reelected — and as sure as you’re sitting there — is to start a war with Iran.”

Nevertheless, this quote did not come from a liberal Democrat in a critique against Donald Trump. It was not penned by left wing radicals who hate our current president. No, this was a tweet by Donald Trump on November 16, 2011 in which he predicted that then President Obama would lead our country into a senseless war in the Middle East. President Obama did not fulfill Trump’s prophecy. He refused to start a futile war with Iran for personal political gain. Although Trump was wrong about Obama, he was right about human nature and how many politicians make decisions. Many rulers create international crises for their own personal benefit. Ironically, perhaps Trump was predicting his own behavior in 2020.

Citizens in the United States, and around the world, must learn from history. The war in Iraq was touted as a “just” war that we waged to eliminate Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. There were no weapons of mass destruction. Although Saddam Hussein was evil, our military conflict was not justified. Trump himself opposed that war and campaigned on getting our troops out of never ending, futile and unjust wars in the Middle East. He has just ordered the deployment of thousands of soldiers to the Middle East.

A truly biblical position on political activity comes from Jesus Himself where he warns people to not be naïve. Jesus told them, “The rulers of the world lord it over their subjects, and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors (= Doers of Good). Do not be like them.” (Luke 22:25-26). Jesus calls his followers not to believe everything we hear. We are called to have a healthy dose of skepticism. People must hold their elected officials responsible to tell the truth and to act justly. It is my hope and prayer that we do not fall into an “easy believism”. May we rigorously seek the truth and may the truth win out.

Christianity Today and Trump’s Impeachment

Last week on December 19, the Editor in Chief of Christianity Today, Mark Galli, wrote an editorial that has caused quite a stir. Titled ¨Trump Should Be Removed from Office¨ Galli argued that President Trump has been so immoral that he should leave the presidency either through impeachment or be voted out of office in the 2020 election (see https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html)

Christianity Today was founded by the evangelist Billy Graham back in the 1950s and has remained both theologically and socially conservative since its beginning. It is the flagship magazine of the mainstream evangelical movement. Although it is non-partisan, it deals with political and social issues with some frequency. Galli argued that just as the magazine had urged the impeachment of President Bill Clinton some twenty years ago, the time had come to urge that President Donald Trump be removed from office.

Galli was very precise in his analysis. First, he pointed out the bad actions that the Democrats had committed: ¨The Democrats have had it out for him {Trump} from day one, and therefore nearly everything they do is under a cloud of partisan suspicion. This has led many to suspect not only motives but facts in these recent impeachment hearings. And, no, Mr. Trump did not have a serious opportunity to offer his side of the story in the House hearings on impeachment.”

Nevertheless, the actions of Trump were beyond the pale. “The facts in this instance are unambiguous: The president of the United States attempted to use his political power to coerce a foreign leader to harass and discredit one of the president’s political opponents. That is not only a violation of the Constitution; more importantly, it is profoundly immoral.” Galli also points out other sins that Trump has committed: racism, abundant lies, immoral actions against women and in business, slander, etc.

What is at stake, for Galli, is the very integrity and witness of the church. If followers of Jesus pretend that Trump’s sins are “good” or are not important, we no longer contribute to the moral compass of our culture. Instead of Christians adorning the gospel with our lives, we are actually pushing people away from Jesus. Sadly, I have personally seen this happen over and over again, especially with younger generations. Galli knows that for many evangelicals, Trump’s virtues (his appointment of conservative judges and a strong economy) outweigh his vices. He knows that they might still approve of his presidency, but some positive actions do not make a person immune from impeachment. Sincere Christians might disagree on impeachment, but at the very least, they need to have the courage to identify sin when it stares them in the face.

Trump was quick to respond to the editorial. He lambasted the magazine with an ad hominem attack using phrases such as “radical left” and “communist”. These comments are absurd! Even those who have a superficial understanding of the contemporary religious scene know that Christianity Today has been and continues to be socially and politically conservative. In a follow up response, Christianity Today’s president and CEO, Timothy Dalrymple, defended the editorial as well as the magazine’s reputation. “President Donald Trump would have you believe we are ‘far left.’ Others have said we are not Bible-believing Christians. Neither is true. Christianity Today is theologically conservative. We are pro-life and pro-family. We are firm supporters of religious liberties and economic opportunity for men and women to exercise their gifts and create value in the world. We believe in the authority of Scripture.”

Given the importance of these issues, I echo the magazine’s call for continued conversation. Let our contributions to the dialogue be respectful and filled with truth and grace. That is the way of Jesus.

Seeking Truth in an Age of Impeachment – What are they trying to hide?

Most people in the United States (and many around the world) are aware that President Donald Trump was impeached on Wednesday by the Democrat controlled U.S. House of Representatives. The vote was overwhelmingly along party lines. He was indicted on two articles of impeachment: (1) abuse of power and (2) obstruction of the Congress. He was accused of abusing his office of president this past summer when he pressured the government of Ukraine to get dirt on his political rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. Trump put a pause on almost 400 million dollars of military aid approved for Ukraine by the U.S. Congress until the Ukraine government publicly announced an investigation of criminality by the Bidens.

Democrats and Republicans are generally in agreement regarding the facts. The White House has issued a fairly complete transcript of the July 25 phone conversation between Trump and Ukraine President Zelenski where Trump stated, “We do ask for a favor though” where he asked that the Ukrainians investigate the Bidens. Nevertheless, Democrats and Republicans vigorously disagree on the motivation behind the favor that Trump requested. Trump claims he was putting a hold on the funding until corruption in the Ukraine government had been significantly reduced. Democrats claim that Trump was illegally using the presidency to get “dirt” on his possible 2020 election rival, Joe Biden and that this illegal action rises to the level of impeachment.

Sadly, it is human nature for us to try to put our best foot forward and to suppress any information that describes us in a negative light. We do it when we write an overwhelmingly positive resumé as we apply for a new job, when we write a commercial to sell our products, or when we are trying to get elected (whether it be for class president or for the U.S. Senate). Nevertheless, this leads to only part of the truth, the part that we want others to see. We try to hide our weak areas, the negative aspects of the truth, those aspects that would hurt our cause.

This is what has happened in the impeachment inquiry. President Trump blocked many witnesses from testifying and he blocked the release of significant emails. This blocking of witnesses continues to unfold as the process moves to the U.S. Senate. The Republicans want to bring to the witness stand the whistleblower, Hunter Biden, Joe Biden, and Adam Schiff. The Democrats want John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney, Rudy Giuliani to appear because they are the key figures who had direct knowledge of why the military aid was suspended. The Republican strategy is somewhat divided. President Trump wants a longer “trial” so that his image might be repaired in a Republican controlled Senate. Majority leader  Mitch McConnell has indicated reluctance to any additional witnesses because some new damning evidence might come out, especially by Bolton and Mulvaney.

There is hypocrisy on both sides. Both want the public to see the testimony of witnesses that reveal the negative actions of the other side. For example, the Republicans accuse the Democrats for not proving their case, but it was President Trump who was blocking the very testimony of those who had first-hand knowledge. To demand that the Democrats should go to the courts in order to legally obtain this information is obviously hypocritical, because this process would be tied up in the courts well past the 2020 election.

Nevertheless, if we really want to know the truth, we should want to know more information, not less, more witnesses who would testify, not fewer. Will the sworn testimony of Hunter Biden, John Bolton, and Mick Mulvaney be embarrassing to their side? Probably. Will it help clarify the issues? For certain! We the people ask the Senate to bring in those persons who will shed light on what really happened. We demand that they stop hiding the facts. The truth will set us free!

We betrayed the Kurds: Let’s admit our big mistake

Our Betrayal of the Kurds: Let’s admit we made a big mistake

A week ago President Trump ordered the removal of U.S. troops from northern Syria. Our troops were there together with our allies, the Kurds, in a prolonged conflict to remove the terrorist group ISIS from Syria. This decision was made by our President but went against the recommendations of most of our National Security and Military leadership. The response from the Turkish government was quick and predictable. They sent troops to invade northern Syria to create a “safe zone”. It was an obvious “land grab” and the area is now anything but “safe”. The rapidly occurring events include the following:

  • Hundreds of Kurdish civilians have been killed and their leaders feel betrayed by us.
  • Thousands of captured ISIS terrorist soldiers are now escaping from prisons and detention camps
  • The Kurds are now asking for help from the Syrian authoritarian ruler, Bashar al Assad.
  • The Kurds, realizing that we have abandoned them, are also seeking a new alliance with Russia.
  • President Trump has threatened Turkey with “crippling sanctions”, but these are still potential measures that have not been implemented. Such feeble threats have done nothing but embolden Turkey’s ruler Erdogan.

In a very rare demonstration of bi-partisan unity, almost all of our Congressional representatives who have weighed in on the issue, have criticized the President’s decision. Republican Senator Lindsay Graham, one of Trump’s most faithful allies, announced that the White House “shamelessly abandoned” our allies, the Kurds. Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, rebuked the President and explained that “a precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime…and it would increase the risk that ISIS and other terrorist groups regroup.” This is quite revealing. If McConnell is right, much of the so called “war on terrorism” has been a huge mistake since the gains that were made with great sacrifice and cost, will now be lost.

Although I empathize with Trump’s desire to get us out of “stupid, endless wars” we must be very careful and wise in how we remove ourselves. If not, the solution is deadlier than the problem. President Trump, it takes courage and maturity to recognize one’s mistakes, especially when they occur in full public view.  Be mature, retrace your steps, and change your policy.

Enough is Enough! Senator Mitch McConnell, Bring the Bill Up for a Vote!

This past Saturday our country suffered another mass shooting, this time in El Paso, Texas. A 21-year-old white supremacist opened fire at a Walmart store and killed 22 people and seriously wounded others. Then, early Sunday morning, another mass shooting took place in downtown Dayton, Ohio and nine civilians were killed.

Time and time again we have witnessed mass killings in our country: Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Orlando, Gilroy, and the list goes on and on. These massacres are in the news for a while, but nothing happens. Our Congress has let us down. 90% of our citizens are in favor of requiring a universal background check before people can purchase guns. This would reduce the number of guns in the hands of those who should not have them (felons, domestic abusers, mentally ill people, etc.)  Currently there are many loopholes (sales at gun shows, online gun sales, etc.) that allow guns to get into the wrong hands.

There is one man who has blocked legislation that would require a universal background check: Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell. He has repeatedly refused to bring legislation passed by the House of Representatives to a vote in the Senate. On a wide variety of issues this has contributed to the deadlock and polarization of our Congress, as moderate measures are not even given a chance. This is especially troubling regarding background checks.  Last month, a bipartisan bill passed the House (240 to 190) that would require a universal background check prior to the purchase of guns and would eliminate the loopholes. It was co-sponsored by Republican Representative Pete King who affirmed, “When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people that we all agree shouldn’t have guns. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence, we must do more. The overwhelming majority of Americans want to see action and we owe it to the victims and their families to prevent such tragedies from occurring again.” Senator McConnell has not even brought this bill up for a vote in the Senate. The fact that the NRA (National Rifle Association) has given millions of dollars in contributions to his election campaigns clearly suggests that McConnell is in the NRA’s back pocket.

This bill is not perfect and will not end all gun violence in our country. McConnell does not have to vote in favor of this bill, but he does have the moral and legal responsibility to bring it up for discussion and a vote in the Senate. I urge my readers to communicate with Senator McConnell and to urge him to bring the bill to the Senate.  This is not a left/right issue. Even President Trump has urged a bipartisan response that would include “stricter background checks”. Enough is enough. We, the people of the United States, need to demand action by those in Congress who represent us. The lives of our neighbors are in the balance.

Mueller has spoken. So has Barr. Is it time for an impeachment inquiry?

As everyone knows, Special Counsel Robert Mueller headed up the investigation on alleged Russian interference in our 2016 presidential election. The twenty-two-month long investigation resulted in the Mueller Report with the following conclusions:

  • There was definite interference by Russia in our election.
  • The was not enough evidence to bring charges of conspiracy between the Trump election campaign and Russian officials.
  • There were ten episodes of alleged obstruction of justice. The Report laid out the evidence in favor and against obstruction, but did not state a conclusion. It suggested that the Congress has this responsibility.
  • The Report did not exonerate the President.

Within 48 hours, Attorney General Barr wrote a four-page document that summarized the report. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein made a decision to affirm that President Trump was innocent of the allegations of obstruction of justice. Trump went even further and claimed that there was no obstruction and that he was fully exonerated.

Mueller disagreed with the Barr summary and wrote two letters to Barr to rectify that misleading conclusion. Not obtaining the rectification that he sought, Mueller broke his public silence on the investigation and gave a nine-minute public address (May 29, 2019) when he also announced his resignation from the Department of Justice. Regarding the investigation, he made the following affirmations:

  • His Special Counsel investigation was not legally permitted to bring charges against Trump due to Department of Justice tradition and policy that would not allow a sitting president to be indicted.
  • Since the Department of Justice cannot bring charges against a sitting president, the only other option is political. The Congress would need to bring charges of impeachment against the President.
  • Regarding the claims of no obstruction and exoneration, Mueller spoke quite clearly, “If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that. We did not, however, make a determination, as to whether the President did commit a crime.”

A few days later, Barr stated his disagreement with Mueller’s comments. Meanwhile, various committees in the Democrat controlled House of Representatives have subpoenaed various documents (Trump’s tax returns) and witnesses (Don McGahn, Hope Hicks, etc.). The Trump administration has refused to turn over documents and has pressured the witnesses not to appear before the House committees.

We are at an impasse. Both sides have their partisan political reasons for their positions. Democrats claim that Trump has obstructed justice and he is doing everything he can to prevent the truth from coming out. Trump claims that the Democrats lost in the investigation and want a “re-do” in a type of witch hunt against the President.

More than partisanship, what we really need is to come to a conclusion regarding the truth on these issues. A full-blown impeachment process would probably not obtain the needed two/thirds majority in the Senate due to the Republican control there, and therefore could be a strategic mistake for the Democrats. Nevertheless, given the White House actions of stalling and stonewalling, I believe an “impeachment inquiry” is now the only way to obtain a clearer understanding of what happened. If Trump is truly innocent, he should turn over the documents and permit McGahn and Hicks to bear witness to the truth, whatever the consequences. Democrats should be courageous enough to begin the inquiry in order to fulfill their Constitutional oversight responsibilities. Let the truth win out!

Let me be as clear as possible. An impeachment inquiry is not the same as articles of impeachment. An inquiry is a first step to gather sufficient evidence to see whether impeachment proceedings should go forward or not. If the White House is not willing to relinquish key documents and allow witnesses to testify, an impeachment inquiry is the next step forward.

The Battle for our National Soul

I believe that we are in a battle for the soul of our nation. It is a battle for our hearts and minds. It is a battle for the truth.

President Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Mueller Report gave him a threefold clean bill of political health. 

NO COLLUSION! 

NO OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE! 

FULL EXONERATION! 

Claims like these need to be examined under the light of the truth. The first claim is mostly accurate. The Mueller Report did find that the Russian government wanted to help Trump win, but there was not sufficient cooperation by the Trump campaign to bring a charge of complicity. 

The second and third claims are deliberate distortions of the Mueller Report findings. The Report is quite clear when it states, “IF WE HAD CONFIDENCE AFTER A THOROUGH INVESTIGATION OF THE FACTS THAT THE PRESIDENT CLEARLY DID NOT COMMIT OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE, WE WOULD SO STATE. WE ARE UNABLE TO REACH SUCH A JUDGMENT. While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, IT ALSO DOES NOT EXONERATE HIM.” There is no other possible understanding of Trump’s affirmations except that he is trying to mislead the U.S. people in order to protect himself. I personally get very angry when I hear such blatant lies repeated over and over again. 

What is equally troublesome for me is that some 30-40% of my fellow U.S. citizens actually believe his falsehoods. I can understand why some citizens support Trump (the strong economy, low unemployment rates, etc.), but I cannot comprehend why they believe him when he so blatantly lies. 

We have had many difficult times in our nation and in our world in the past, but the current period seems particularly dire. Perhaps our greatest challenge is the battle for the truth. It is the battle for the soul of our nation. If words no longer have any meaning, then there is no hope for resolving the problems before us.  It is time for all of us to affirm the importance of truth for the sake of our country. It is time for all of us to reject falsehoods regardless of the political affiliation of the leaders that propagate them.

Let us commit ourselves to holding each other accountable for the pursuit of the truth. It can set us free. 

Did Attorney General Bill Barr Lie to Congress?

One of the most serious discussions encircling the U.S. federal government these days is the accusation leveled by many Democrats (including the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi) that Attorney General Bill Barr has lied to Congress. Here are the details.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller finished his twenty-two-month long investigation of alleged Russian interference in our 2016 presidential elections and turned in his report to the Attorney General Bill Barr back in mid-March. Although the Attorney General could (should?) have published Mueller’s own summary of the Report for public consumption, Barr chose to release his own four-page summary letter on March 24.  In that letter, Barr summarized the Mueller Report in that there was “no collusion”. That was not quite what the Report said. It only stated that the evidence of conspiracy or cooperation between the Russian government and the Trump political campaign did not rise to the level of criminality.

What is more serious is that Barr distorted the Mueller Report regarding Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice. Barr, together with the Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, concluded that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice.[1] Trump immediately and repeatedly claimed “No obstruction! Full exoneration!” Nothing could be further from the truth, because the Mueller Report was very clear on this point, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. We are unable to reach such a judgment. While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” The Report did not exonerate the President, nor did it affirm that Trump did not commit obstruction of justice. To the contrary, it laid out the evidence of ten episodes in favor and against obstruction and affirmed that Congress had the responsibility to evaluate the evidence and decide whether it rose to the impeachment criteria of “high crimes and misdemeanors”.

Robert Mueller disagreed so strongly with the Barr summary, that he wrote two letters to Barr in the following days, in which he urged Barr to make public Mueller’s summaries that he had prepared precisely to be presented to the public and to protect confidential information. He also claimed that the Barr summary failed to capture the “context, nature and substance” of the Report and that Barr’s summary caused “public confusion about critical aspects” of the investigation.

The big lie to Congress came two weeks later. On April 9, Barr appeared before the House Appropriations Committee. Rep. Charlie Crist asked Barr if he knew the basis of reports that members of Mueller’s team were frustrated with his decision to release his four-page summary instead of the summaries that Mueller had prepared. Barr answered, “No, I don’t.” That was a lie, because he had already received Mueller’s two follow up letters. Barr’s later alibi was extremely weak because he claimed that he did not know which members of Mueller’s team were being referred to.

I believe that Barr’s integrity and independence have been seriously compromised. For the good of the country, Barr should step down from his position. On a related issue, Mueller should appear before both Senate and House committees to clarify any lingering questions and doubts about his Report. Originally Barr stated that he had no objections to Mueller’s testifying to Congress. But over the weekend, President Trump has stated he doesn’t want Mueller to testify. The citizens of our country deserve to hear Mueller’s candid comments about Russian interference in our elections and the truth about the accusations of obstruction of justice. The truth shall set us free.

PS – Yesterday a letter was published that was signed by over 450 ex Federal Prosecutors who had served in both Republican and Democrat administrations. The letter affirms that “Each of us believes that the conduct of President Trump described in the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Report would, in the case of any other person not covered by the Office of Legal Counsel policy against indicting a sitting President, result in multiple felony charges for obstruction of justice.” Far from being exonerated as Trump repeatedly proclaims, a fair reading of the Mueller Report demonstrates several examples of obstruction of justice.


[1] This was misleading because Barr had written a 19-page article several months earlier where he claimed that no sitting president could even be guilty of obstruction of justice. Therefore, Barr’s “conclusion” that there was no obstruction was based upon his belief that a sitting president could not be guilty, not because the evidence wasn’t convincing.

The Mueller Report

The Mueller Report…What do we know now?

A week ago, on Thursday, April 18, Attorney General Bill Barr held a press conference about the Mueller Report. He then sent a redacted version of that report to congressional members which he also made available for public view.

Let us not be naïve. Both political sides are putting their “spin” on the Report and the analyzed events. These spins range from one extreme, “This is the best day so far in the Trump presidency” to the other extreme, “He should be impeached!” Trump himself exclaimed at first, “No collusion! No obstruction!” Nevertheless, upon becoming aware of the details of the Report that portray him in a negative light, he has claimed that the Report is full of lies.

As seekers of truth, we need to work hard to filter out the spin. This means we need to read with great care the Mueller Report for ourselves and to not accept blindly the “Cliff Notes” of secondary sources. It also means reading and listening to various points of view. I have forced myself to listen to CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and PBS, plus going on line to view additional sources.

Original purpose of the Mueller investigation

What has been overlooked by most news outlets is the conclusion that Mueller arrived at regarding the main purpose of his investigation: Did Russia interfere in our 2016 presidential election? Mueller’s answer was a resounding “Yes!” He provided pages and pages of evidence showing the multiple ways Russia tried to influence the election on behalf of Trump and against Hillary Clinton. Nevertheless, neither the White House, nor the Republicans, nor the Democrats have taken enough steps to block this type of interference in the future.

Attorney General William Barr

Every Attorney General swears to uphold the Constitution and is the highest law enforcement officer in the country.  He or she is supposed to be a neutral arbiter of justice and should be above partisan politics. The Attorney General is the attorney for the U.S. people, not the private defense attorney for the president. I believe that Attorney General Barr has lost credibility for the following reasons:

  1. Barr shared the redacted document with the White House and Trump’s lawyers prior to making it available to Congress or to the public. The Attorney General should be committed to equality and to not show favoritism.
  2. In Barr’s four-page summary letter of March 24, 2019 as well as in his press conference last Thursday morning, he distorted the Mueller Report on both the allegations of collusion and obstruction of justice, the right of Congress to evaluate the report, and the supposed eagerness of the President to cooperate with the investigation. (see below)

The Redaction of the Report

Attorney General Barr has emitted a redacted edition of the Mueller Report, not the complete version. Four kinds of information were blacked out. They are the following:

  1. Grand Jury material
  2. Classified information regarding secret intelligence content and sources
  3. Information that could interfere with other ongoing legal investigations
  4. Information that could hurt the privacy and reputation of ´peripheral third parties’

It seems reasonable to me that the first three types of information should not be revealed to the general public.  Because I am committed to the truth, I am not quite so convinced that peripheral third parties need to be protected. Nevertheless, I believe that Republican and Democrat congressional leaders have the right to see the entire non-redacted version plus the evidence that undergirds it. The reason is obvious. Attorney General Barr has lost credibility in the eyes of half of our citizens. He did not let Robert Mueller confirm the veracity of his “Summary” of last month nor the redacted version last week. I do not trust Barr to be the “gatekeeper” of what information is released. I also believe that Barr, Mueller, Don McGahn and others need to appear before Congress to answer important questions so that the truth can be made more public.

Legal Context – A President cannot be indicted but can be impeached

According to the Justice Department’s traditional position and the specific judgment of its Office of Legal Counsel, a sitting president cannot be indicted while in office. The rationale behind this is that presidents should not be distracted from fulfilling their executive responsibilities due to legal procedures against them. The options are the following:

  1. A president can be accused of a crime, but not indicted. Nevertheless, without being indicted, a president does not have a legal way to respond to the alleged crimes.
  2. A president can be indicted for crimes committed during his/her presidency, but only after leaving office.
  3. If a president’s actions reach the level of “high crimes and misdemeanors”, Congress has the responsibility to impeach a president. This is essentially the only way to remove a president from office.

In addition, Barr wrote an unsolicited letter to the Justice Department in June 2018 before he had become Attorney General. In that article he wrote that the Mueller investigation was illegal and a waste of time and taxpayer money, and that a sitting president could not commit obstruction of justice. Many people think that Trump chose Barr to be the Attorney General precisely due to these opinions. In essence, Mueller’s only course of action was to lay out the evidence and then let Congress take the next step. He clearly stated this, “We determined not to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.”

No Conspiracy and Cooperation between Russia and the Trump Campaign

The good news for Trump is that Mueller did not find evidence of conspiracy. The word “collusion” is not a legal term, and as a consequence, Mueller chose to hold a rather strict definition of the legal crime of “conspiracy”. Although Russia interfered in the election in support of Trump and against Hillary Clinton, and the Trump Campaign appreciated their support (ex. “We love WikiLeaks!), Mueller did not find that there was actual cooperation between the Russian government and the Campaign.

Obstruction of Justice

In his summary letter a month ago, Barr concluded (together with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein) that Trump was not guilty of obstruction of justice. This is where Barr distorted the facts. The Mueller Report clearly stated that it did not reach that conclusion. The Report reads, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. We are unable to reach such a judgment.” It continues, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Thus, Attorney General Barr gave false information when he provided the first “spin” of the Mueller Report in his March 24th letter and then again in his press conference on April 18.

Why didn’t Mueller reach a decision regarding possible obstruction of justice? He investigated 10 episodes of alleged obstruction by the Trump campaign and administration. He then laid out the evidence both in favor and against that possible obstruction. Was the evidence so divided and balanced that Mueller could not reach a decision? No! He believed that his role was not to render a decision. He wanted the evidence to be weighed in the court of public opinion. If there would be a judgment, it would not be made by him nor by the Attorney General. The U.S. Constitution dictates that it is the Congress that should evaluate if impeachment is required for an obstruction of justice. (See comments below on Congress)

Did President Trump eagerly cooperate with the Mueller investigation?

                           During his press conference and in other moments, Barr affirmed that President Trump willingly and eagerly cooperated with the investigation. The facts do not confirm this claim. Mueller wanted to directly interview the president and so requested. Trump’s lawyers fought this request over and over again. Finally, it was agreed that Mueller would ask questions that Trump would answer in writing. (Mueller considered subpoenaing the president to an oral interview, but finally decided against doing that because the delay tactics of Trump’s lawyers would have caused the Report to have been extended by months or years.)

                           In his written answers, Trump was not very cooperative nor transparent. Over thirty times, he answered “I do not remember” or “I do not recollect”. Given that he had several days to turn in his answers, he had plenty of time to review emails, his notes, etc. to refresh his memory. (This is particularly ironic given that he has boasted over and over again that he has one of the best memories of anyone in the history of humanity.) During this past week, Trump has again refused to turn over his tax records. He has also demanded that his White House staff (both current and previous) refuse to appear before Congressional committees, even when they have been subpoenaed. It sure seems that he is trying to hide information from public view.

The Role of Congress to Evaluate the Report

Barr repeatedly affirmed that Mueller never said that the report was to be evaluated by the Congress. This goes directly against Mueller’s testimony. On repeated occasions, Mueller indicates the role of Congress to not only read his report, but if necessary, to act upon it. For example, “The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.”

The Report also states, “With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.” It is quite clear that Mueller wants Congress to evaluate his findings.

“Sincere” Beliefs?

Attorney General Barr made an unusual comment that has not received much comment by the press. He claimed that some of President Trump’s actions were based upon his “sincere” beliefs that he was being unfairly attacked. I take issue with the word “sincere”. Only God can determine the sincerity of people’s hearts. So, unless Barr has an infallible connection with God, he should be an impartial Attorney General and not vouch for the sincerity of anyone.

Where do we go from here?

The two options that are generally proposed are: (1) We should forget about the Report and move on with other challenges; or (2) Congress should begin impeachment procedures now. I disagree with the first option because the serious Russia threat needs to be addressed and because Mueller has placed the ball in Congress’ court.  I am against the second option because an impeachment procedure is painful and divisive for the entire nation and should only be entered into after thoughtful deliberations. I urge a third way. It is the responsibility of Congress to clarify remaining doubts and answer lingering questions by calling Mueller, Barr, McGahn, and others to bear witness to the truth. Let us follow that truth wherever it leads.