The President of the United States did not conspire with the Russians. Neither did his family. Neither did his friends. Neither did his campaign. At the end of the Robert Mueller investigation – now clearly staffed and advanced by partisans who loathe this president – not one single American, after all that, has been indicted or charged with any crime for conspiring with the Russians in any way, shape, or form to steal the 2016 election. That is now an indisputable fact. The uncomfortable reality is that we spent two years being fed the most irresponsible allegations advanced by an ignorant punditocracy gone savage for this idea, which should raise all sorts of questions about our political, intelligence, and media elites who sold us this crazy story and promised the American people the proof that never came.
The juiciest portion of the report from the perspective of the media yesterday was the president’s outburst upon being told of the appointment of Mueller as special counsel following Jeff Sessions’ recusal and the firing of James Comey – from the searchable report here:
[W]hen Sessions told the President that a Special Counsel had been appointed, the President slumped back in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f***ed.” The President became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse from the investigation, stating, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”
The President said the position of Attorney General was his most important appointment and that Sessions had “let [him] down,” contrasting him to Eric Holder and Robert Kennedy. Sessions recalled that the President said to him, “you were supposed to protect me,” or words to that effect. The President returned to the consequences of the appointment and said, “Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency . It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
He wasn’t wrong! The cloud created by this investigation in the aftermath of Comey’s utterly deserved firing (for incompetence above all else, but it’s just as justified for any reason, including being an Emo Giraffe) would hamper the administration at every turn, in foreign and domestic politics, and ultimately became a constant battle for the president throughout the past two years.
And now we know it was all for naught. Well, glad that’s settled – except for the bitter enders who continue to insist they see the ghosts. And one can understand why: If you spent two years confident that Don Jr. was going to jail, it’s impossible to persist as a media commentator admitting your wrongness – better to double down and insist the conspiracy goes even deeper than you ever suspected.
The obstruction portion of the Report was even less impressive. It advances a broad definitional theory of obstruction that takes eight pages to explain – one that is clearly set up as a response to Bill Barr’s memo on the subject – that I’d love to see a single elected official explain coherently. There’s much fun to be had in counting the footnotes that are Tweets, public interviews, and press conferences. As Rick Klein notes, the Report is more about making a political case against the president than a legal one. And that’s very much how it reads.
The president frequently behaved in private as he does in public: he threatened, proffered pardons, and cajoled those around him to make this investigation end or go away. He was at every turn bounded, rejected, or ignored by those who work for him who were unwilling to break any laws on his behalf. Don McGahn should win an MVP award. Does this make the president look bad? Of course it does! Is it surprising? To me, not at all – he was doing all this in public, too. This is what being governed by the first 2,000 people through the gate at the Bruins game looks like.
But at the end of the day, no laws were clearly broken, so Mueller, like Comey before him, decided to reach a “no exoneration” conclusion that smears the target of the investigation without advancing a legal argument for his indictment – kicking the matter instead to Congress, where politicians are left with a partial roadmap to impeachment, but hardly enough fuel for that train.
How can we know that to be the case? Just look at the instant reaction of Democratic leadership, where Steny Hoyer is speaking for Nancy Pelosi. They have zero interest in taking the matter up. In taking this position, they are relying on voluminous poll data showing that the American people long ago tuned out this investigation and do not believe impeachment is justified. They are also taking signals from the 2020 Democratic field, where none of the leading candidates is pushing for impeachment, and where questions about Mueller or Russia are virtually nonexistent on the campaign trail. That’s unlikely to change.
The challenge of course for Democratic leadership is that the biggest constituency for impeachment is the media, which yesterday was urging Democrats to impeach the president. They are happy to leave this question to the voters. Media partisans immediately freaked out at Hoyer for saying what any responsible leader ought to say. The mantra of the media is that the White House is dominated by a “culture of lying” – shocking, I say. 2019 George Stephanopoulos repeated that this morning, and watching him make the case that a culture of lying is an impeachable offense would be pretty hilarious news for 1998 George Stephanopoulos. But if you’re willing to claim out of nowhere that 20 years of watching Fox News turned Bill Barr into a Trumpian figure, you’re willing to go pretty far out there.
So this sets up an interesting phenomenon. The Democratic Leadership is wisely pumping the brakes on impeachment. The majority of the Democratic conference is with them. The majority of the American people are with them. But influential partisans are in favor of such a foolhardy escapade, despite all the facts we now know, driven by their hatred of this president and a refusal to acknowledge how wrong they were about how he got elected. Much as its authors tried, the report does not aid them in this effort. As David Harsanyi notes, “It went from ‘Russia stole the election with Trump’ to ‘Trump spoke about trying to undermine the investigation that was being used to smear him every day for two years.’” That’s just not going to fly. But influential elites in politics and media are now reduced to this conspiracy of dunces, imitating Homer Simpson chasing after that marvelous pig, insisting it’s still good.