It’s seems odd to say that we have to talk about the Mueller report now, given that for the last two years the country has been able to talk of little else. Our politics seems to love empty gestures much more than concrete facts. But any celebrity that goes on too long eventually overstays its welcome, and this is something our president and the report on his possible collusion with a foreign power have in common.
We do not want to see it, but in both cases we cannot look away.
Still … the people who demanded that the state of Hawaii release President Obama’s long-form birth certificate because they didn’t trust the state to make all the relevant details available per standard legal procedures are in no position to say that the Mueller report shouldn’t be released to the American people. Of course it should. Imagine if the Starr report on President Clinton had been summarized by his attorney general as “it doesn’t indict him, but it doesn’t exonerate him” and left it at that. It matters, both to the country as a whole and the legitimacy of the Trump presidency, that the full report be released, unaltered.
That said, I think we are all best served by provisionally taking Attorney General Barr at his word that no collusion was found between candidate Trump and a foreign government, and that no new federal indictments are warranted.
And this is good! This is great news! I know that progressives don’t want to hear it, but it matters — it matters a lot — that President Trump was elected fairly. For all that many Democrats were hoping that the Mueller report would be the first step in articles of impeachment, this is the best possible outcome.
And if they want to say now, as many seem to, that the Trump campaign was willing to collude with the Russians, even wanted to, but just couldn’t get its act together enough to make it happen … OK, sure. That’s plausible. But almost any theory that rests for evidence on the fact that “Donald Trump is a terrible person who surrounds himself with incompetents” is going to be at least a little true. But facts matter: the Russians were certainly trying to influence our election, but after a two-year investigation that led to seven guilty pleas, one conviction (so far) and no loses in court, it looks like the candidate wasn’t in on it.
That’s something we should take a victory lap about.
What’s baffling to me is the way in which Trump and conservative media are still accusing Mueller, the FBI and the “system” in general of being corrupt, even as they produced a report that (so far as we know) in fact clears him of the major charge against him. If Mueller is corrupt, then we have less reason to trust in a finding of Trump’s innocence.
What’s going on?
This may just be a reflex action; the Fox News crowd is so habituated to attacking Mueller that they can’t stop, even when there’s a good reason to. That sounds ridiculous, but come on, they’re still going after Hillary Clinton on an almost daily basis, claiming that, even though the Justice Department cleared her of wrongdoing, Americans should not let this go or rest until she’s locked up. Which … is not a good message for them right now. “We’ll get our political enemy no matter what the Justice Department said” could really turn against them, someday.
The nightmare scenario that this is the action of a man and a movement who really do intend to utilize the powers of government to attack their political enemies. That Trump believes he has an attorney general who will launch an investigation of anyone he tells him to, just because he tells him to. Trump is certainly talking like a man who intends to do that, and really, what is it about Trump’s past that suggests he wouldn’t? Where has he ever shown restraint toward people he doesn’t like?
For that matter, when have congressional Republicans? They held years of hearings on Hillary Clinton without uncovering one piece of wrongdoing … and then held more.
The more I think about it, the more the best thing about the Mueller report — at least to the extent we know anything about it — is its restraint. It investigated its purview clearly, quietly and specifically, charging people with crimes when it found them in the course of its investigation, passing on relevant information to other agencies where relevant and ultimately not advocating more legal action than the law could in fact reasonably sustain.
Disappointed Democrats insisting that there must be a conspiracy and celebrating Republicans declaring that they must have vengeance should look to Mueller and see how it’s done.
It’s vital that they do, actually, because our democracy cannot survive anything else.