The Impeachment Question

The Mueller Report

with an introduction and analysis by Rosalind S. Helderman and Matt Zapotosky
Washington Post/Scribner, 729 pp., $15.00 (paper)

Impeachment: A Handbook

by Charles L. Black Jr. and Philip Bobbitt
Yale University Press, second edition, 165 pp., $9.95 (paper)

1.

Books about impeachment began appearing almost as soon as Donald Trump took the oath of office. One of the earliest, Impeachment: A Citizen’s Guide by Cass R. Sunstein, scrupulously avoided mentioning the president by name.1 But Sunstein, a Harvard law professor, set out twenty-one hypothetical scenarios, grouping them as “easy cases” for impeachment, “easy cases” against, and “harder cases,” some strikingly prescient, that could go either way.

Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller; drawing by John Springs

Since then, the flood of impeachment books has shown no sign of letting up. Looming over all of them is the Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Election—the Mueller Report (though in redacted form). In two volumes totaling 448 pages, it is not formally a book, although it quickly attained best-seller status on Amazon as an instant paperback produced by The Washington Post, with added commentary by two Post reporters.2

When I first read the Mueller Report, in several sittings shortly after its public release on April 18, I assumed that it would become the book against which all the others on impeachment would be judged. The writing is clear and jargon-free, even riveting in its deadpan just-the-facts narrative. The 182-page volume 2, which analyzes thirty-eight separate incidents as potential obstructions of justice (one is completely blacked out as “HOM—Harm to Ongoing Matter”), reads like a cross between Wolf Hall and Richard III, depicting the White House under the shadow of the Russia investigation in a constant state of crisis, as the president’s top aides struggle to both serve their master and save their own skins—not only from his wrath but from the potential legal consequences of carrying out his orders. It is Trumpian reality television come startlingly to life.

Most accounts of the report, understandably focused on the conclusions—obstruction? indictable? impeachable?—have omitted the detail needed to fully grasp both the madness in the White House and the sheer energy these aides had to expend to keep the presidential engine from jumping the track. From the report itself, we learn in one example of potential obstruction of justice that on June 19, 2017, Trump instructed Corey Lewandowski, his former campaign manager, to tell Attorney General Jeff Sessions to give a speech denouncing the special counsel’s investigation. Lewandowski was at the time a private citizen—not, one would think, someone empowered to give orders to the attorney general.

Sessions, to the president’s lasting fury, had recused himself from the Russia investigation, which Trump saw as no obstacle to his further instruction to Lewandowski: tell Sessions to meet with the special counsel and order him to limit his inquiry to future election interference—implicitly shutting down the investigation into Russian interference on behalf of the Trump campaign in 2016. “Write this down,” the president told Lewandowski, who took notes on what Sessions was to say in the speech:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific…


This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!

View Offer

Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.

If you are already a subscriber, please be sure you are logged in to your nybooks.com account. You may also need to link your website account to your subscription, which you can do here.