In all likelihood, one of two things will happen: Either Special Counsel Robert Mueller, appointed exactly one year ago, will file his report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election early this summer, or he will wait until after November’s midterm elections. Whether he waits or not, it is understood that the extraordinary scandal that Mueller is in the process of dissecting will weigh, in all sorts of ways, on these elections.
An important piece of “additional information” made the headlines this week on the basis of remarks made by Rudolph Giuliani, President Trump’s lawyer and the former mayor of New York City; namely, that even if Mueller reaches incriminating conclusions, he will not pursue criminal charges against Trump, in accordance with an opinion from the U.S. Department of Justice, which says that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted.
This position is not airtight, because Mueller’s office has not confirmed Giuliani’s statements, and Giuliani’s devotion to Trump is so blind as to cast doubt on his opinion.
But it tends to confirm that the president’s fate in this story is, and will remain, a purely political affair. From Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton, The New York Times reported on Thursday, special prosecutors have strictly adhered to the Justice Department’s point of view. Thus, if in this scenario, Mueller concluded that there was obstruction of justice or collusion between the Russians and Trump’s campaign team, Mueller would leave it up to Congress – which currently has a Republican majority – and the voters to decide whether or not to punish the president.
This Pandora’s box that is the Mueller investigation is surely going to give rise to other messy revelations. Pressure will intensify on the Democrats to demand the president’s removal, and Democratic voters are already largely in favor of this. How can Republicans continue to demonize Mueller without suffering losses within their own electorate?
Immunity is a privilege deeply anchored in our political culture. It has a counterpart: impunity. Respect for the will of the people is a great democratic principle, except on this occasion, where it clashes with a dysfunctional electoral system, which raises doubts that the people’s will can be expressed clearly.