Mueller report changes few minds in Washington, D.C.

Political Notebook

Last week’s long-awaited release of an investigation into 2016 election interference drew new battle lines in Congress, with local Republicans calling the report a vindication and Democrats split over a potential impeachment of President Donald Trump.

The so-called Mueller report, compiled over months by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, revealed the scope of the alleged Russian intelligence effort to influence the election. Mueller also covered at least 10 potential instances of obstruction of justice, as the president sought to slow or shutter the investigation.

But Mueller’s final decision — evidence of possible crimes but no recommended criminal charges — has left Pennsylvania Republicans celebrating.

“The release of the Mueller Report confirms the top line conclusions issued by Attorney General (William) Barr a couple of weeks ago,” Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, said, referring to an earlier summary issued by the attorney general’s office. “There was no collusion with the Russians by President Trump or his campaign, there was no obstruction of justice committed by the president, and to claim otherwise on either of these fronts would be a direct contradiction of the facts.”

That’s in keeping with the administration’s attitude toward the 448-page report, as well as the president’s own social media posts. Calling the investigation a “big fat waste of time, energy and money” on Twitter, Trump disputed claims made by his employees and attorneys in the report.

“Statements are made about me by certain people in the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters, which are fabricated & totally untrue,” the president wrote.

Since the report’s release, congressional Democrats have pointed to possible obstruction evidence in calling for further investigation. Leaders have called for Mueller to testify and for Barr to release more information with fewer redactions.

“Over the coming days, I will carefully review Special Counsel Mueller’s report because the American people deserve to know the whole truth,” Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., said in a written statement. “I will also continue to press Attorney General Barr to release grand jury information and all the underlying evidence that is not protected due to intelligence concerns.”

Casey added: “The actions we know that President Trump, his aides and allies took may not violate criminal statutes, but they are fundamentally inconsistent with American values.”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., took a measured tone after the report’s release. The Republican senator said he was glad to hear there was “no collusion” between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government. In the report, Mueller stressed that “collusion” is not a legal term.

“The Special Counsel’s findings are a stark reminder that Russia’s goal is to undermine the trust the American people have in our democratic process and government,” Toomey said.

While Republicans resolved to turn the page on the investigation, congressional Democrats are pushing ahead. While committee leaders demand more information and call on Mueller to testify, some in Congress are suggesting Trump’s potential obstruction could be grounds for impeachment.

Perhaps most prominent among them is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who called for impeachment while campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. Warren pointed to repeated cases of possible obstruction, in which Trump told aides to stop or silence the investigation.

“The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” Warren said on Twitter.

Many Democrats — including the Pennsylvania congressional delegation — have remained tight-lipped about impeachment. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested it’s not in the cards, and Pennsylvania Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said “we’re just not there yet” on beginning the legal process.

Constitutionally, the House submits articles of impeachment while the Senate votes to remove a sitting president. Even with the longshot chance of an impeachment vote, defeat would be all-but assured in a GOP-controlled Senate.

Turnpike seeks cash

The Turnpike Commission could soon borrow money to cover public transport projects, including passenger rail service through Altoona, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Wednesday.

Turnpike officials won a legal victory early this month, when a judge dismissed a trucking industry lawsuit over tolls. The lawsuit held up hundreds of millions of dollars set to be transferred to PennDOT, and in turn, to road and rail projects across the state.

But the victory wasn’t final: The trucking group appealed the case, and money could still be short when a July fiscal-year deadline arrives. If that happens, PennDOT and other transit agencies could be forced to slash spending and cut planned projects.

In preparation for that deadline, turnpike officials said they’re seeking a bond up to $800 million to cover the debt. Favorable rates would allow the money to flow again, and could even spare state-subsidized passenger rail service.

State officials are weighing additional Amtrak rail service, which relies on injections of state money to affordably cross from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg and Philadelphia.