The Mueller report is in, but the collusion story may never end
The story is not over. It may never be over in our lifetimes. But an important chapter has come to an end, and it had a happy ending for the president.
Contrary to what we’re already beginning to hear from some quarters of the left, the Mueller probe almost certainly puts to rest the extreme version of the Russia collusion narrative.
If there were compelling evidence that Donald Trump clandestinely conspired with the Russian government, it’s safe to assume that special counsel Robert Mueller would have found it. And if he found it, he would have put it in his report. And if he put it in his report, Attorney General Bill Barr would have indicated as much in his summary.
Even if Barr were inclined to cover up such findings, he knows that the truth would come out, and that his career and reputation would be utterly destroyed.
But it does not — and really cannot — put to rest the softer versions of the collusion charge. Candidate Trump publicly called on the Russians to keep hacking away at Hillary Clinton’s emails. Donald Trump Jr. and the entire senior leadership of the Trump campaign took a meeting with a self-declared emissary of the Russian government to get dirt on Clinton (and then lied about it later at the president’s direction). Trump’s campaign manager, currently in prison, worked with Russian-aligned oligarchs in Ukraine. Various campaign peons and hangers-on were eager to cultivate relations with Russia.
Moreover, the ironclad conclusion of the intelligence community as well as the Mueller investigation found that Russia did indeed work to get Trump elected. The Trump campaign may have been dishonorably happy for the help, but that’s not collusion.
And let’s be clear: That is very good news. If you believed that Trump was a traitor, it’s one thing to want that exposed, quite another to want it to be true, which is where a lot of people ended up.
Those people will not go away, nor will they lose their adamantine convictions about the president’s fitness or legitimacy.
Which is one of the reasons why this will remain a never-ending story.
Like Hillary Clinton, Trump is an avatar in a broader culture war. We’re still hearing about Clinton’s emails. Why should we expect the clamor over Trump’s alleged collusion to end any time soon?
Beto O’Rourke, who, like most of his competitors for the Democratic nomination, is trying to personify the collective liberal id, simply ignored the news and proclaimed that he believed “beyond the shadow of a doubt” that Trump sought to collude with Russia.
Similarly, just as there are people irretrievably locked into the idea that Trump is illegitimate, there are legions of people equally committed to the idea that the probe itself was an illegitimate witch hunt, or, in the president’s words, an attempted “illegal takedown.”
Never mind that the same people who insisted that Mueller was a dirty deep-state operative doing the Clintons’ bidding are now celebrating Mueller’s integrity and thoroughness. (Last July, Rudy Giuliani called the probe “the most corrupt investigation I have ever seen.”)
Both the collusion and deep-state narratives have always been subordinate to the larger and deeper motives driving and sustaining political polarization.
New facts — Trump didn’t collude, Mueller wasn’t corrupt — are like rocks in a river. They will divert the water here or there, and perhaps create some froth and churn, but the torrent won’t stop, particularly when there are so many fresh avenues for the waters to follow.
The watchword on the right these days is “reckoning” — as in, there needs to be one for anyone who believed Trump colluded or even supported an investigation. On the left, there is a clamor for Congress to pick up where Mueller left off and a hunger for new saviors, such as the Southern District of New York.
The idea that the Mueller report itself will remain secret is a childish fantasy. And although Barr’s summary may be technically accurate, one can be sure it is not comprehensive.
It is too tempting a treasure trove of anti-Trump spoils for Democrats and journalists to ignore. Likewise, all of the documents — warrants, internal memos, etc. — that birthed the investigation in the first place are too delicious for those seeking a reckoning to remain warehoused like the Ark of the Covenant in the first Indiana Jones movie.
A chapter has closed, but the story goes on. Because too many people need it to.