WASHINGTON -- Cathartic, it was not
The relentlessly plodding Mueller report finally ended after a 22-month whodunit that climaxed to the sound of pffft.
There is no evidence of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, special counsel Robert Mueller concluded. But, just in case Democrats needed a crumb to sustain them in further pursuit of a longed-for conspiracy, Mueller added that his findings (or lack thereof) do not exonerate the president of obstruction of justice.
What this means remains to be discovered since the report has yet to be released. What little information that Congress and the public have thus far comes from Attorney General William Barr’s four-page summary.
Surprised by the conclusion? Shocked? Hardly. Most Washington insiders on my daily rounds gave up the collusion delusion at least a year ago. Short of a video showing Trump and Vladimir Putin fist-bumping and chanting Collusion, collusion, collusion, ha! an indictable charge against the president seemed increasingly unlikely.
The vast majority of other Americans surely stopped fretting about collusion and even Russia’s interference with the election, the latter of which Mueller did confirm, long before that. Sustaining suspense for two years isn’t possible in the age of Twitter and Instapots -- the slow cooker that’s fast!
Yet -- and yet, again -- the show goes on. Indeed, in the swamp, the show never ends. Always gurgling with gossip and innuendo, Washington’s croaking and hissing denizens slither and slander along rivulets of intrigue, coiled in wait for conspirators, canards and the occasional coo-coo bird. Mueller may have drained away some of the sleaziest serpents, including the axis of deceit that includes Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone. But, as one who has lived among Florida’s marshes and South Carolina’s Lowcountry, I can aver that the swamp persists.
Thus, it would seem that Trump has been vindicated. Even some Democratic leaders are ready to accept Mueller’s findings, including Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., who said Tuesday that the investigation is “a chapter that’s closed.”
Hallelujah? Not quite. Other Democrats are still hoping to find fresh threads to unravel once -- and if -- the Mueller report is made public. Among media sleuths, the consequential question is why Mueller didn’t pursue a charge against Trump for obstruction of justice. After all, Trump did ask then-FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to Comey.
Mueller’s answer, as Barr has related it, was that the evidence didn’t meet the standard for an indictment. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Comey said much the same thing about Hillary Clinton when the FBI completed its investigation into whether she had committed a crime by using her personal email account and server for classified information while secretary of state. Though Comey was deeply critical of Clinton and her staff for being “extremely careless,” he said her actions didn’t meet the standards set by previous department investigations. Commenting on Comey’s report, Trump tweeted on July 2, 2016:
“It was just announced-by sources-that no charges will be brought against Crooked Hillary Clinton. Like I said, the system is totally rigged!”
Not so rigged today, apparently.
Free at last from the investigation that has dogged him since taking office, Trump wasted no time in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. On Tuesday, his administration announced that it wants a federal court to fully invalidate the Affordable Care Act. And, in the spirit of his bully pulpit, he said that “somebody” ought to investigate the origins of collusion allegations, as well as those in the media who he said advanced the conspiracy.
Trump has been building his case for at least two years that the media are the “enemy of the people,” and most journalists have heard from his most avid supporters -- either through social media or, in some instances, in person. This has always been a dangerous game for the president to play, but it can’t go unsaid that many prominent media organizations gave disproportionate attention to the Mueller investigation, in large part filling in gaps through speculation, supposition and hypotheticals.
No doubt, this necessary conversation will take place in newsrooms across the country, even as the swamp continues its cycle of life and decay. Meanwhile, Americans can find solace in the investigation’s close and what may be only a brief holiday from hostilities. It’s campaign season after all -- and the swamp is hungry.