Witcover: Happy anniversary. Robert Mueller

Just one year ago, Special Counsel Robert Mueller began his investigation into the Russian meddling in our 2016 presidential election that put Donald Trump in the Oval Office. Today it continues, with no certain end yet in sight.

The fact that MR. Mueller has been seeking an interview with Mr. Trump is taken by many to indicate a conclusion is near, triggering a resumption of the old debate in of the Nixon and Clinton presidencies on whether a chief executive can be charged with or indicted for committing a crime while still in office.


The old argument against it has been resurrected by Mr. Trump's defense lawyer Rudy Giulani. The former New York mayor has counseled the president against agreeing to be interviewed, citing rulings by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel in the Nixon and Clinton presidencies that the Constitution prohibits subpoenaing a sitting president. "We would say they can't," Mr. Giuliani said.

Mr. Trump himself seized the anniversary of the start of the Mueller inquiry to tweet a mocking commentary: "Congratulations, America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History ... and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction. The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!"


The Trump presidency is often a kind of political "Rashomon," with partisans on either side looking at the same facts and coming to wildly different conclusions.

Thus has Mr. Trump, with the encouragement of similarly minded counterpuncher Mr. Giuliani, continued his customary modus operandi of casting the opposition again as no more than political sore losers.

The Giuliani strategy was first revealed in his acknowledgment that Mr. Trump did pay hush money through his fixer, Michael Cohen, to adult movie actress Stormy Daniels to remain silent days before the election about an old sexual affair.

In getting that issue off the table, Mr. Giuliani has now pivoted to challenging the legal assumption that a sitting president can be charged or indicted on a criminal charge while in office.

He argues that such an action would impede the executive branch, as written in a 1973 Justice Department Legal Office opinion, "from accomplishing its constitutional functions" in a manner not "justified by an overriding need."

Although Mr. Trump earlier had said he was willing and looking forward to such an interview, most of his lawyers, including Mr. Giuliani, have recognized that it could be "a perjury trap," considering this president's undisciplined penchant for verbally shooting from the hip.

House and Senate lawmakers are set to meet with top intelligence officials as President Donald Trump raises new suspicions about the Russia investigation.

A New York Times report has speculated that, short of issuing a subpoena to Mr. Trump for the interview or a grand jury appearance, Mr. ueller could either provide material to Congress with which to launch impeachment proceedings against him or declare him an unindicted co-conspirator, as occurred with Nixon in the Watergate scandal.

In that affair, the finding was believed to encourage the House Judiciary Committee considering the impeachment of Nixon to act. But when key Republicans in Congress informed him that he did not have the votes to defeat it, he resigned.

Mr. Mueller's investigation has so dominated the American political scene in its first year that anything short of a full public airing of its inquiry into the Russian election meddling would almost certainly trigger a public outcry, or at least an even more intensified news-media quest for details. Predictably, Mr. Trump and his administration would counter with laments of more "fake news."

Republicans' quest for classified documents on the Russia investigation led to two unusual meetings at the Department of Justice on Thursday, one with President Trump's political allies and another for bipartisan congressional leaders.

In all this, this president has continued to slough off the whole matter of Russia's efforts to undermine the American elections process, to the point of dismissing his own intelligence community's unanimous findings of well-organized meddling during and since the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump has managed to reduce the whole affair to whether there was "collusion" by him or his campaign minions in this outrageous intrusion into democratic country's legal procedures in achieving self-government, which the Russian people are themselves denied.

Mr. Mueller thus still has the heavy responsibility of clarifying whether the president or his 2016 campaign ever had any hand in it, and for Congress finally to exert its own power to require him to take countermeasures to ensure the future integrity of the American political system.

Jules Witcover is a syndicated columnist and former long-time writer for The Baltimore Sun. His latest book is "The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power" (Smithsonian Books). His email is juleswitcover@comcast.net.

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