A Successful Disruption

In a devastating critique of Robert Mueller’s investigation of Trump’s alleged Russian collusion, Peter Van Buren explains:

“We last looked at what Mueller had publicly -- and what he didn’t have -- some 10 months ago, and I remained skeptical that the Trump campaign had in any way colluded with Russia. It’s worth another look now, but first let’s give away the ending (spoiler alert!): there is still no real evidence of, well, much of anything significant about Russiagate. One thing that is clear is that the investigation seems to be ending. Mueller’s office has reportedly even told various defense lawyers that it is “tying up loose ends.” The moment to wrap things up is politically right as well: the Democrats will soon take control of the House; time to hand this all off to them.” 

Van Buren underlines the obvious when he tells us that Mueller’s expensive, eighteen-month long investigation turned up no evidence of the collusion in question. He also brings up all the embarrassing misadventures of Mueller as a past investigator, such as his botched examination of the anthrax cases. Van Buren might have also mentioned Mueller’s disastrous use of criminal Whitey Bulger as a means of going after the Mafia in Massachusetts; and the inappropriate nature of his taking the job to investigate Trump right after Trump had turned down Mueller’s request to become FBI Director. 

Although I fully concede Van Buren’s points, that the investigation has proceeded too long and that it has turned up no “real evidence” of collusion, the more important question for me is whether it has been a productive fishing expedition. Certainly in the aid conferred on Donald Trump’s enemies, Robert Mueller has performed miracles. Despite remarkably low unemployment rates, hovering around 3.7 %, robust economic growth, and the avoidance of war, Trump and his party were trounced in the elections this November. They lost the independent vote by 12% and the gender gap may have been as high as 20%. This beating was very different from the ones suffered by Obama, who was plagued by largely self-inflicted economic woes. The Republicans lost to a party that explicitly made Trump its key issue and which was aided by the MSM that continues to attack the President 24/7.

The charge of Russian collusion has played well in this narrative. According to The Hill, Mueller’s approval rating as an investigator is still at 43% (down from 47% in October). Trump’s approval rating for how he has dealt with the investigation has fallen in the same time period from 33% to 29%. Although Mueller’s performance receives much higher grades from Democrats, 21% of those Republicans polled support Mueller and still aren’t asking him to call it a day. There is, furthermore, an anti-Trump “conservative” press that may be just as eager as the Democrats to see Trump taken down. New York Times’ authorized conservative David Brooks has rabidly defended the Mueller investigation and seems to welcome the prospect of impeaching Trump. We may also assume that with Trump-hating Democrats like Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, and Maxine Waters put in charge of congressional committees in a few weeks, “Russiagate” will live on as long as the Democratic Party continues to draw electoral benefits from it. Never mind that there is no “real evidence” of collusion, which would not be a crime even if it occurred, according to legal scholar Alan Dershowitz. Equally relevant: although the probe has not revealed collusion, it has dug up enough dirt about Trump’s associates (some through extorted testimony) to keep the media call for Trump’s impeachment going on and possibly gaining ground. The focus of the investigation has obviously changed but in a way that continues to help Trump’s opponents.

No one outside of Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh would assert that Trump is a totally innocent victim in this matter. He has behaved with astounding indiscretion time and again and has walked into every trap set by his enemies. In all likelihood there would have been no credible demand for Mueller’s probe if Trump has been more discreet in how he dumped James Comey as FBI director. He was certainly correct to fire this treacherous figure with close ties to his enemies, but the silly tweets and contradictory explanations that accompanied the act, placed the President in a very bad light. Trump’s persistent habit of venting in interviews and through tweeting has generated nonstop controversy, and his tendency to fire back, usually incoherently, at his TV detractors, has made him look downright silly.

Despite these failings, however, Trump does have real enemies in a country that seems evenly divided between Right and Left. His narrow victory in the presidential race, in which he lost the popular vote but won in the Electoral College, has exacerbated the present irrepressible conflict. Even if Trump had a Christlike personality, his identification with the Right would leave him with powerful enemies in the media, popular culture and educational institutions. The ongoing investigation of his increasingly doubtful Russian collusion is not the only reason that Trump is widely hated on the left and among establishment Republicans. But this probe and his reactions to it crystalize an already pervasive hostility, and each time Trump engages with those who support the investigation, he seems to make matters worse for himself and his party.

Trump has been on the money when he’s noted that the Mueller investigation has diverted attention from worrisome questions concerning the FBI’s surveillance of Trump’s staff, the dealings of the Clinton Foundation, and the illegal use of Hillary’s private email server while she was secretary of state. This diversion is one of numerous benefits bestowed on Trump’s enemies by the Mueller probe. Unfortunately Trump has expressed his defensible view by way of irritated outbursts on his IPhone. He could not have found a better way to discredit it.     

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