Much Ado About Mueller
After almost two years of investigative work, Robert Mueller and his team handed in their report to the Attorney General, William Barr. Before Barr made his report to Congress, word quickly spread that the report called for no further indictments and did not find any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Barr briefed Congress on Sunday with a letter summarizing Mueller’s findings. Whereas the report itself left the question of obstruction hanging, the Attorney General wrote that the Department of Justice would not pursue any charges. Here’s the best summary of the report and the letter.
The Mueller investigation has been the biggest ongoing news story of the Trump presidency. Mueller and his team issued almost 2,800 subpoenas, contacted 13 foreign governments, and questioned 500 witnesses, all as part of an investigation into a sitting president. Over half a million different articles have been published about Mueller in the last 18 months. The colossal scope of the investigation, and the even greater corona of media attention, forces us to take a step back and consider this phenomenon as a whole, even before all the details come to light.
For many on the left, the Mueller investigation felt like an adult finally entered the room. Convinced that there would be ample evidence for collusion - and probably several other high crimes and misdemeanors - they saw Mueller as the savior of American institutions and the constitutional order. In the aftermath of the underwhelming report, we’ll see that the investigation was nothing more than a symbol; an expedient pathway to getting what they wanted. The Democrats want to be in power, they hate Trump, and they’ll do anything to remove him from office and destroy his agenda. For this group, it’s on to whatever the next story is that they believe will help them get their way. For this group, the Mueller investigation will live on in the ambiguity surrounding obstruction of justice. Rep. Jerry Nadler tweeted that the House Judiciary Committee will be calling Barr to testify in the near future.
For many on the right, the Mueller investigation felt like an impending boogie man. Adopting the President’s “witch hunt” moniker, many conservatives saw an unfair and untethered political agenda masquerading as an official judicial undertaking. There are those in this group who would have continued to support the President even if he had colluded with Russia, for most of, if not entirely, the same set of reasons Trump’s opponents oppose him. Even those who would not identify as unequivocal Trump supporters probably feel some relief over the report. It’s a really good thing that the government of the United States of America did not collude with a hostile foreign power. In addition, it would be hard to argue that the ongoing Mueller saga has been good for American politics and society - which are practically fused. Let’s not forget that more than 34 people pled guilty during the investigation including high-ranking members of the Trump campaign - almost all of them for lying to investigators or members of Congress.
The Trump administration has now stared down the American media twice and won. In an ideal world, both poles in our political system would snap out of it, accept the realities we live in, and begin moving forward. The best thing that could happen would be that the Mueller report serves as a sobering transition out of the 2016 election hysteria. Some Democrats are still in denial over the Trump presidency and maybe this will extinguish the flames of that delirium. The most productive thing we can do is move on.
Here’s the more realistic outcome. What’s been the most likely outcome all along, and probably the worst of all worlds is that the Mueller report is vague enough for every side to see what they want to see in it. Just days after the report has been submitted, Democrats show no sign of deterrence in their quest to impeach the President. If collusion doesn’t work, it’s on to obstruction of justice. At the Atlantic, David Frum argues that there was enough evidence to impeach and remove the president without the Mueller report. The Vox “explainer” holds out that maybe the Trump campaign conspired with Russian oligarchs and expects the obstruction issue to be pursued further. The top opinion column at the New York Times argues that Barr’s bias is clouding the facts, and calls the report “a good moment for the demagogue.” Another contributor concluded that the report assures us that there may be collusion with Russia and that the president is clearly unfit to be in office. The editorial board at the Washington Post has concluded that even if the president didn’t collude, he’s a Russian apologist, and he bullied the DoJ into a favorable reading of the report.
All of this underscores our culture’s casual relationship with the truth. For all the mudslinging over facts, truth, and fake news, the only thing we can assert monolithically is that the base position on every side is relativism until it’s advantageous to take a hard stance. The mainstream media appears to be marching on completely unphased by the report, and that is a disservice to the American people. We’ve arrived, again, at a very embarrassing moment for major news media outlets. Nothing is going to change without public accountability. Several Republicans and conservative outlets have called for an investigation into Comey’s FBI, the Clinton emails, and the Mueller investigation itself. Sen. Lindsey Graham tweeted at James Comey foreshadowing a subpoena in his near future. These investigations are belated and necessary. It’s astounding that the DoJ has not begun an investigation into the opposition and sabotage of the Trump campaign inside the Obama administration or the illegal activity of the Clinton campaign. However, Trump supporters would be wise to take a lesson from the Mueller report; in the end, revenge is never a sure thing, and it never tastes quite as good as you expect.
It’s impossible to tell at this point how Mueller conducted himself or what measure of judgment he used to arrive at his conclusions. It appears that he conducted himself with integrity, prudence, and wisdom both in investigating and reporting. Ultimately, the path forward now falls to Congress, and we must hope that they employ similar virtues. As Christians, we have to resist the urge to be more invested with political parties or specific people than we are with the truth. Political allegiances tend to creep up on us, and if we’re not careful, we’ll find ourselves longing for a certain position over and against the facts. In the end, we have dual citizenship, and our loyalty is far higher to the kingdom of God than it is to the United States, and even more so to any political faction within the United States. This is not to say that we shouldn’t care about American politics - we should - but to remind us that we do not see through the lens of the Democratic or Republican parties but through the lens of Scripture, from an eternal hope, and with an unshakeable commitment to the truth.