Gehrke: Romney and Lee had vastly different reactions to the Mueller report and only one of them referenced Shrek

Robert Gehrke

Mitt Romney is sickened and Mike Lee shrugs it off.

Those are pretty diverse takeaways by Utah’s Republican senators who presumably read the same report by special counsel Robert Mueller last week.

Where Romney issued the most scathing condemnation of President Donald Trump from a Republican, saying he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty by individuals in the highest office in the land including the president,” Lee dismissed the report as old news.

While Romney is “appalled that fellow citizens working in a campaign for president welcomed help from Russia, including information that had been illegally obtained,” Lee is indifferent.

Lee is making the television talk show rounds, promoting his new book — “Our Lost Declaration: America's Fight Against Tyranny from King George to the Deep State” — but at every stop he is spending a lot of time talking about the Mueller report. He is at least being consistent.

“There’s nothing in this report that changes my view of this president,” Lee said on “Face the Nation” over the weekend. “I don’t think most Americans, I don’t think most senators, most members of Congress ... will have their view of the president of the United States changed by this report. There’s just nothing in there that should do that.”

It’s a sly little side-step by the senator, who has vacillated between praising and criticizing Trump — remember when candidate Trump boasted of infidelity and sexual assault and Lee called him an “embarrassment” and said he should quit the race?

Lee’s spokesman, Conn Carroll, said that Trump “has a different leadership style” than the senator. “There are many things that Trump has done that Senator Lee would never do,” Carroll said. “That said, the report itself was not surprising. The American people know who President Trump is and they will have another chance to judge him in November 2020.”

Their relationship status is: “It’s complicated.”

Perhaps Lee’s most bizarre take on the Mueller report is his criticism that it was unclear on the point of whether the president obstructed the investigation.

“I think it's odd to say I'm not going to make a recommendation, but I'm going to sound like I'm making a recommendation,” Lee said over the weekend on “Face the Nation.” “It's kind of strange to spend two years on that and then speak with the sort of a tone that is reminiscent of Pinocchio in the movie Shrek 3. ‘I’m not going to say that I'm not deciding.’ “

Now, if you’re thinking, “Shrek 3?!? What the hell is he talking about?” you’re not alone. Apparently the senator thought this reference to the obscure and widely panned 2007 “Shrek the Third” would be witty and relatable.

It wasn’t.

His point, (according to my Google searches) is that, in the movie, Pinocchio couldn’t lie or his nose would grow, so he twisted himself into knots dancing around the truth — kind of like Lee twists himself into knots to muddy up what the report actually says about obstruction.

He gets it, of course. Lee is a former federal prosecutor who understands that the Justice Department believes that a sitting president can’t be charged, so Mueller didn’t make a decision on whether Trump acted criminally.

What the report did is lay out a detailed pattern of attempts to impede the investigation, including Trump’s direct orders to White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller, which McGahn refused to do and had even cleaned out his desk and told the White House chief of staff he was quitting rather than following the president’s order.

More importantly, Mueller explicitly leaves it to Congress to check the use of presidential power, something Lee, a devout believer in the balance of powers, should appreciate.

More than appreciate it, though, he should exercise it. And he is uniquely positioned among Utah’s delegation to do so, starting next week when the Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hear from Attorney General William Barr.

It’s fitting that at the moment that Lee is promoting his book on the Declaration of Independence — a document rooted in the notion that nobody, even a king, is above the law. “A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant,” those patriots wrote, “is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.”

Hopefully the senator, like Pinocchio, will cut the strings and put principle before party and in good faith delve into the facts and legal theories in the report. Perhaps he will come around, as Romney did and the rest of us should, to being sickened and appalled by the picture presented in minute detail by the special counsel.

More likely, though, all Lee will muster is Shrek and a shrug.