President Trump should be feeling pretty good about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the 2016 election. It’s not a clean bill of health, but it’s close enough for Trump and his fellow Republicans.
The full report of the 22-month investigation has not been released, and it’s uncertain when or whether it will be. But a four-page summary letter from Attorney General William Barr on Sunday said the report did not find evidence that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to affect the outcome of the election.
Since that was the biggest allegation against Trump, it’s understandable for him to claim he was right all along. But if you think about this rationally, the judgment of “no collusion” is no surprise.
After all, Trump ran an unconventional campaign that was understaffed and often seemed disorganized. To be blunt, the idea that his people had the time or the talent to conspire with Russia is a stretch.
More to the point, the Russians don’t operate that way. They (like their American counterparts) are masters of quiet subterfuge and intrigue. They don’t operate out in the open, and directly plotting with a political campaign runs a high risk of being found out.
One benefit of the special counsel’s work is that Americans got a pretty good look at exactly what the Russians were up to. The president, who clearly was the beneficiary of their meddling even if he didn’t conspire with them, should have been more forceful in denouncing a foreign power’s orchestrated misinformation campaign and its theft of Democratic emails.
A second benefit is that Mueller and his staff set an excellent example for future special counsels, and all prosecutors, in the way they operated. They didn’t speak publicly or leak information to reporters. They didn’t respond to Trump’s criticism on social media. They just did their jobs and let their indictments and other court actions do all the talking.
Those who believe Mueller has completely cleared Trump would be wise to remember that the special counsel obtained guilty pleas from at least four of his associates — a campaign chief and his deputy, a national security adviser and the president’s longtime personal lawyer.
Much of what got these men in trouble was being untruthful to investigators. Which, of course, begs the question: If everything was as honest and aboveboard as the president says, why were so many people around him lying about what they did?
It’s worth noting that Mueller’s report, according to the attorney general, does not clear the president in at least one area.
Trump’s 2017 firing of FBI director James Comey led to the appointment of Mueller. Whether Comey’s firing was designed to short-circuit the Russian investigation or had other legitimate motivations was what Mueller was supposed to determine. His conclusion was ambivalent, neither accusing the president of a crime nor exonerating him.
Why Mueller chose to punt this determination back to his superiors at the Justice Department, who concluded over the weekend that there was no crime, is one of the lingering mysteries of Mueller’s probe. The only way to understand the special prosecutor’s ambivalence is to see his full report, which would include the evidence as well as the legal issues with which he wrestled. Democrats are pushing for that full report.
They admittedly have political reasons to keep this controversy alive through the 2020 elections. But their request, politics aside, is also a legitimate inquiry.