Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill in 2012 (Yuri Gripas/Reuters)
The investigation wasn’t a ‘witch hunt,’ and the integrity of the system has been vindicated.
It seems that “13 hardened Democrats” or “angry Democrats” did not deliver a politically motivated, illegitimate hit job after all. Based on what we know so far, the special counsel’s office reported that it did not find evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. This is a fabulous vindication of the integrity of the system.
No one is noticing that. Instead, the Trump team is gorging on schadenfreude, and the anti-Trump team is choking on bile.
It’s fair to say that those who spent hour upon cable-TV hour lovingly anticipating that President Trump would be frog-marched from the White House in handcuffs after the delivery of this report have egg on their faces. It isn’t clear which hurts more, the disappointment about being wrong or the worry about drooping ratings.
But there’s plenty of egg to go around. Team Trump spent nearly two years denouncing the Mueller investigation as a “rigged witch hunt.” By one count, the president used the term “witch hunt” more than 1,100 times. He mercilessly eviscerated his own attorney general, Jeff Sessions, for the sin of following Justice Department guidelines instead of corruptly abusing his office to shield Mr. Trump from scrutiny. At various times, the president has also suggested that the inquiry was a sinister plot of the “deep state”; a ploy by supporters of “crooked” Hillary Clinton to extract revenge (while also suggesting that the real collusion was between Democrats and the Russians); and an “illegal hoax” perpetrated by the “fake news” media. President Trump claimed that the Mueller probe was staffed by “very bad and conflicted people” and that the investigation was a “disgrace to our nation.”
The battle space was thus prepared for a Mueller report that would be devastating to the president. His supporters would disbelieve anything that reflected badly on Trump because the investigation itself, along with the law-enforcement bodies tasked with carrying out their responsibilities in an impartial fashion, had been discredited.
Yet, when it turned out that the investigators did not invent or plant evidence, did not default to process crimes such as lying to investigators, did not spring a perjury trap, and, above all, did not permit their own feelings or political preferences to taint the administration of justice, there has been no embarrassment from Team Trump. On a dime, they have reversed themselves completely. A totally corrupt witch hunt has become a total vindication. (It wasn’t that. Even Attorney General William Barr’s letter acknowledged that the report did not “exonerate” the president on the charge of obstruction of justice.) But even if it had been a clean bill of health, how can they trust the Mueller people? Weren’t they thoroughly corrupt? A disgrace?
President Trump has a long history of impugning anyone or anything he perceives as a threat to his own interests and flattering anyone he thinks can help him. When he feared he would lose an election, he denounced the voting as “rigged.” Judge Curiel became a “Mexican” judge when Trump feared he might rule against him in the Trump University case. Gold-star parents, deceased heroic senators, Charles Krauthammer, S. E. Cupp, Jeff Bezos, and an endless list of others have joined the ranks of the slighted. On the other hand, if you repent and join the Trump fan club — as pretty much the entire invertebrate Republican party has done — then you are swiftly forgiven and elevated. Lindsey Graham went from “nasty” and “dumb mouthpiece” to favorite golfing buddy in a trice.
This transparently solipsistic approach to the world would be of little interest if it were just a quirk of a New York businessman. But when Trump employs the tactic to undermine confidence in institutions such as the justice system, he does lasting damage.
The “witch hunt” was nothing of the kind. Honorable people did the right thing. Politics did not taint a criminal investigation. But that reality is buried under an avalanche of bad faith.