Is This It?: A Trump-Hater’s Guide to Mueller Skepticism

Is This It?: A Trump-Hater’s Guide to Mueller Skepticism, by T.A. Frank in the reliably PC magazine Vanity Fair.

Certainly, Trump’s ethical standards are low, but if sleaziness were a crime then many more people from our ruling class would be in jail. It is sleazy, but not criminal, to try to find out in advance what WikiLeaks has on Hillary Clinton. It is sleazy, but not criminal, to take a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising a dossier of dirt on Clinton. (Just as, it should be mentioned, it is sleazy, but not criminal, to pay a guy to go to Russia to put together a dossier of dirt on Trump. This is one reason why the Clinton campaign lied about its connection to the Steele dossier, albeit without the disadvantage of being under oath.) It is sleazy, but not criminal, to pursue a business deal while you’re running for president.

Mueller has nailed people for trying to prevaricate about their sleaze, so we already have a couple of guilty pleas over perjury, with more believed to be on the way. But the purpose of the investigation was to address suspicions of underlying conspiracy—that is, a plan by Trump staffers to get Russian help on a criminal effort. Despite countless man-hours of digging, this conspiracy theory, the one that’s been paying the bills at Maddow for a couple of years now, has come no closer to being borne out. …

Let’s take a moment to consider Mueller himself. The cut of his jib is likable, and the trad Brooks Brothers vibe of his wardrobe is a perfect complement to his job title. But it’s hard to avoid the suspicion that he’s playing a political game at this point. To be fair, I’m vulnerable to confirmation bias of my own in this assessment, since about a year ago I suggested that Mueller was going to drag out his investigation until 2019, when Democrats were likely to be back in charge of the House, and seeing a prediction play out can lead to unwarranted certitude. But the reports we’re starting to see suggest a man who’s fallen prey to the same state of mind that warped Ken Starr — namely disgust over the people you’re investigating and a desire to justify the sunk capital. …

If it’s any consolation to Trump haters, we can say this much: the special counsel’s office is going to put together a hell of a report. It will have less sex than Starr’s did, but that’s for the best, and the testimony of Michael Cohen will still guarantee a lot of great scenes, many of them certain to become immortal and embarrassing. Trumpworld won’t fare well under a bright light.

Like Starr, Mueller is also likely to include footnotes and selections that will hint at criminality, the things he suspects but couldn’t prove, and the most ardent believers in collusion will claim vindication. But the international conspiracies will be few, and the collateral damage of the Russia scare will be extensive, stretching far beyond Trump or his circle to the country as a whole. It might hurt a president who many Americans hate, but even the president’s most ardent foes should reflect on a question that will linger: Was it worth it?