It’s seldom hard to distinguish between a liberal and a display of humility and the Mueller report isn’t going to change that. Former FBI director Robert Mueller was tasked with investigating allegations that Donald Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to win the 2016 presidential election. After 22 months, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, and 500 witnesses interviewed, the special counsel has completed his report. The full document has not been published and may never be — federal law restricts disclosure of certain material in relation to grand juries — but attorney general Bill Barr has provided Congress with a four-page précis.
Barr quotes Mueller’s overarching conclusion: ‘The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities’. Mueller determined that there were two attempts by Moscow to influence the 2016 vote: first, the work of the Internet Research Agency, a Russian disinformation group, to provoke discord through social media; second, the hacking of Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee emails and handing them to organisations including WikiLeaks. According to Barr, ‘despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign’, Mueller did not find evidence these offers were taken up.
The special counsel declined to find either way on the question of obstruction of justice, choosing instead to delineate the evidence available and leave it to the attorney general to reach a decision. ‘While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime,’ Mueller writes, ‘it also does not exonerate him.’ Barr, drawing on Mueller’s statement that ‘the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference’, concludes that there is insufficient evidence to accuse Trump of obstructing justice.
If Barr’s summation is accurate, this is a points victory for the President. He has been cleared of collusion but the fact that a special counsel, with decades of criminal prosecutorial experience and 12 years running the FBI — and a Republican to boot — couldn’t exonerate the President of the United States of obstruction of justice is nothing to crow about. The President of the United States is, of course, crowing about it. He tweeted: ‘No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!’ Humility problems are available in all colours.
National Interest editor Jacob Heilbrunn avers: ‘Robert Mueller may well have done Democrats a solid. Instead of going down the chimerical road of impeachment, they can focus on ousting him from office in 2020.’ I am but a lowly internet snipe compared to Jacob but I think he’s wrong about this. Mueller’s partially inconclusive findings hurt the Democrats because their base (which is easily as unhinged as the Labour Party’s grassroots) will shriek for Congressional hearings, and there are members of Congress who will be only too happy to fundraise— I mean, oblige. All but the most cautious, measured Democrats bought into what we now must call a conspiracy theory, or, at best, an unsubstantiated rumour. They are the party of Russiagate just as assuredly as the GOP is the party of Trump. Democrats may pivot from accusing Trump of being a Russian asset to alternative avenues of delegitimising his presidency but the conspiratorial impulse will not easily be contained.
House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY10) has already said Barr’s conclusions ‘raise more questions than they answer’ and even suggested the attorney general ‘pressured the special counsel into not making that finding so he could make the finding’. Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA28), chair of the House Intelligence Committee, found fault with Mueller’s decision not to cross-examine Trump in person. He told one of the Sunday shows: ‘[I]f you really do want the truth, you need to put people under oath, and that should have been done’. Congresswoman Katie Hill (D-CA25) said on MSNBC on Monday: ‘Whatever kind of collusion that didn’t lead to a criminal indictment doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen’. Conspiracism is a drug; once it hooks you, the withdrawal symptoms are too hellish to contemplate. Republicans, including mainstreamers, spent much of the Clinton years convinced that, sure, Troopergate was probably a fiction and maybe Hillary didn’t have Vince Foster bumped off, but there had to be some criminal conspiracy there. Bill sat back, helping himself to a cigar (and the odd intern), and watched as independents fled from his weird, obsessive opponents.
Donald Trump has not been exonerated but his implacable, increasingly unbalanced adversaries — from Congressional Democrats to NeverTrumpers to CNN — have been indicted by Mueller. I say this as someone who was against Trump and, with the exception of his policy towards Israel, continue to regard his presidency as an historic error. But, if Barr’s summary is honest and if Mueller didn’t miss something significant, there was no collusion between Trump and the Kremlin and I and those who think like me got it wrong — very wrong. We believed because we wanted to believe and needed to believe. How else could you explain a brilliant, articulate stateswoman like Hillary Clinton losing to a slimeball with a bad hairdo?
Trump didn’t win because Vladimir Putin wanted it — though he did — but because enough Americans in enough states with enough electoral votes wanted it. Trump won because he poked all the right wounds and tore some new ones along the way. He won because Democrats have allowed themselves to be sucked into the toxic grievance politics of identity and culture. He won because he talked to non college-educated white men, something liberals long ago forgot how to do.
Trump’s opponents on Capitol Hill and in the fourth estate should show some introspection and, yes, even a little humility now. They spent the last two years retailing a conspiracy theory and may yet have Trump’s re-election to show for it.