Opinion
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    JOAN VENNOCHI

    A morally corrupt Trump is saved from himself by disobedient underlings

    The Mueller report should come with a warning: After reading, take a long, hot shower.

    It describes a morally corrupt president who is saved from criminal prosecution on obstruction of justice charges largely because others refused to do what he asked. Trump also helped himself by refusing to be interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller. That made it harder to establish “corruption” in a legal sense.

    What a sad world it is if Trump and Attorney General William Barr get to spin that as exoneration. As the Mueller report notes, “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

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    You don’t have to be a legal genius to understand why. According to the report, Trump repeatedly urged those around him to help him lie and cover up. No wonder he saw the appointment of the special counsel as “the end of his presidency.”

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    As previously reported, Trump urged then-FBI director James Comey to ease up on the agency’s investigation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Flynn’s discussion about US sanctions with a Russian ambassador. The president also asked deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland to draft an internal letter stating the president had not asked Flynn to discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador. She declined, because “she did not know whether that was true.”

    Trump asked White House counsel Donald McGahn to stop Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself. Once Sessions did recuse himself because of his role in the Trump campaign, Trump asked him several time to “unrecuse.” When Sessions announced the appointment of the special counsel, Trump demanded that Sessions resign.

    The Mueller report details several efforts by Trump to curtail the special counsel’s investigation. At one point, Trump asked his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions that directed the attorney general to say the investigation was “very unfair” and the president had done nothing wrong. Lewandowski did not want to deliver the message and instead asked White House official Rick Dearborn to deliver it. But “Dearborn was uncomfortable and did not follow through,” Mueller writes.

    Regarding the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer to get damaging information on Hillary Clinton, “On several occasions, the president directed aides not to publicly disclose the e-mails setting up the June 9 meeting, suggesting the e-mails would not leak and the number of lawyers having access to them should be limited.” Before the e-mails became public, Trump deleted a line that acknowledged the meeting was with someone who said they had dirt on Clinton.

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    Trump tried to get McGahn to deny that he had ordered to have the special counsel removed. But McGahn “refused to back away from what he remembered happening.”

    Trump also let it be it be known that cooperation with the government by Flynn reflected “hostility,” while praising Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager, for refusing to “break.” The president’s conduct toward Michael Cohen, a former Trump organization official, changed from praise, when he minimized Trump’s involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project, to “castigation” when he became a cooperating witness. He also called Cohen a “rat” and “suggested that family members had committed crimes.”

    In explaining why he chose not to make an obstruction of justice finding, Mueller also cited a previous ruling that says indicting a president would undermine the capacity of the executive branch to carry out its constitutional duties. However, given Trump’s conduct, anything that undermines his capacity is a good way to cleanse the nation.

    Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.