What should Democrats do next, after Mueller's report?

“Should I be as depressed as I think I should be?” the text message asked me, shortly after special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller report MORE’s report was delivered to Attorney General William Barr at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday. 

It came from a progressive activist who I admire, someone who has devoted herself to supporting Democrats to check President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpNew EPA rule would expand Trump officials' powers to reject FOIA requests Democratic senator introduces bill to ban gun silencers Democrats: Ex-Commerce aide said Ross asked him to examine adding census citizenship question MORE.

And it accompanied an absolute frenzy of tweets from the left and the right, drawing conclusions from an investigative report that only a handful of people have seen in its entirety. Strangely, the most obsessive tweeter on earth, Donald Trump, was silent.

The most honest tweet came from Joe Scarborough, co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program: “Nobody knows anything.”

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s why the report must be released publicly: every word of it. The American people have a right to know what’s in it. In the event that intelligence sources could be compromised, the public draft can be minimally redacted, so long as the “Gang of Eight” — the congressional leadership of both parties with the highest level of access to classified materials — approves.

And, as former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderThe most important pledge Democratic presidential candidates can make Congress and contempt: What you need to know The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? MORE notes, if the report contains evidence about impeachable conduct or offenses, they must be shared with Congress. “It would be irresponsible for DOJ to hold on to this kind of information — for any reason.”

Then there’s the political fallout. Both Democrats and Republicans who have been obsessed with the Mueller investigation have been drawn into a potentially dangerous position: the inflating of expectations. No matter what’s in the report, it will be predictably received: Trump’s base will continue to defend him, while the left will continue a push to impeach him.

After all, members of the Trump movement have turned on no less of an American hero than the late Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainVeterans group to hand out USS John McCain T-shirts for July 4 on the National Mall Will we ever have another veteran as president? Meghan McCain clashes with Joy Behar as the 'sacrificial Republican' on 'The View' MORE (R-Ariz.). They’d do the same in an instant to a condemnatory report by Mueller.

Politically, the important point is this: What’s in the report is completely out of the control of Democrats and Republicans alike. What is in their control is the winning of elections. And the 2020 election will be won somewhere between Trump vindicators and Trump resisters. It will be won not in reports on the attorney general’s desk but on the turf of battleground counties in battleground states; it will be won in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Arizona and other states that will tip the electoral college. And it will be won by whichever party can claim the swing voters who supported President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden to debate for first time as front-runner John Kerry: Play based on Mueller report is 'an act of public service' Obama photographed alongside Clooney on boat in Italy MORE in 2012, President Donald Trump in 2016, and a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives in 2018.

Last year’s midterm election proved that the president is suffering an erosion of support from those very same swing voters, even as the left continues to maintain its progressive energy.

Meanwhile, no matter how the pages of the Mueller report unfold, Congress should remain focused on its constitutional oversight responsibility to assess every word.

But first, where are the words?

Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael.