Anyone who still believes the Kremlin put Trump in office will never be persuaded otherwise.
All of us know Democrats and Republicans in Washington can’t agree that water is wet, so contentious have our political disputes become. But as the nation pivots toward the 2020 campaign, it’s worth pondering the Mueller report’s deeply partisan fallout, which is striking even by current standards.
Moscow’s sustained and highly coordinated attempts to sabotage the 2016 presidential race were unprecedented, and Robert Mueller’s ultimate conclusion that Russia received no assistance from anyone working on the Trump campaign should have produced bipartisan sighs of relief, not the outrage that it did. For anyone who cares about the integrity of our electoral process, the news that it didn’t buckle under pressure from a determined foreign entity ought to be welcome.
The report states that Russia’s actions were “sweeping and systematic” and “designed to provoke and amplify political and social discord in the United States.” The Russian government aimed to “undermine the U.S. electoral system” through “information warfare,” which included infiltrating the Democratic National Committee, hacking the email accounts of people affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and using WikiLeaks to publicize the stolen material.
After nearly two years of probing the matter six ways from Sunday, the special counsel concluded that no one working to elect Donald Trump had conspired with Russia. In fact, no Americans were indicted for aiding Vladimir Putin’s election-interference schemes or hampering the Mueller team’s investigation of those activities. This is even more remarkable given Mr. Mueller’s demonstrated willingness to prosecute Trump campaign affiliates who lied to investigators about their interactions with Russian officials. If there was something there, Mr. Mueller would have found it.
Nevertheless, the president’s political opponents and media detractors have done nothing but dump on the Mueller report since its release. The special counsel’s rebuttal of the collusion narrative has been met with disbelief, and his decision not to charge the president with obstruction has the press beside itself. This isn’t for lack of evidence. The Mueller report spends 448 pages explaining, among other things, why interactions between Trump campaign associates and Russian officials weren’t even necessarily illegal, let alone irrefutable evidence of “collusion.” An unredacted version of these findings might provide a bit more transparency, but it won’t change anyone’s mind.
That there was no underlying crime doesn’t mean obstruction charges should be off the table, but it does weigh against deciding to bring them. Obstruction is tied to corrupt intent. There’s a big difference between someone who knows he committed a crime and is trying to impede an investigation and someone who believes he did nothing wrong and winds up misleading prosecutors in an effort to demonstrate his innocence. Those now second-guessing Mr. Mueller can ignore such distinctions when crafting political narratives, but the special counsel was obligated to take them into consideration.
Anyone who still believes the Kremlin put Mr. Trump in office will never be persuaded otherwise. The president’s opponents, along with much of the political press, misread the Mueller investigation leaks and continue to mislead the public. Many of the same people who spent most of 2016 insisting that Mr. Trump could never be elected have spent the past two years denouncing his election as illegitimate. Strike two.
For Democrats, the sane response to the Mueller report would be to focus on their energies on policy disagreements with Mr. Trump, not on denying his legitimacy. But it’s far from clear whether most Democrats in Congress are in their right minds when it comes to Mr. Trump. Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent last weekend trying to check the worst impulses of House progressives and other bitter-enders still keen on trying to oust a duly elected president prematurely. Impeachment proceedings are not only doomed to fail—the Republican-controlled Senate would never convict—they might aid Mr. Trump’s politically, if the GOP’s impeachment of Bill Clinton two decades ago is any guide.
Those Democratic lawmakers who are willing to accept the post-Mueller investigation reality also have an interest in finding out how the Justice Department got so much so wrong. Attorney General William Barr said earlier this month that he has “questions” and “concerns” about the FBI’s handling of the Russia investigation—“spying on a political campaign is a big deal”—but so should lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. What sources and methods were deployed by our intelligence agencies? How was it, exactly, that the FBI came to begin surveillance of a Trump campaign adviser based in part on unsubstantiated and discredited information—the so-called Steele dossier—gathered by a former British spy? A Republican won’t occupy the Oval Office forever, and Mr. Trump is right: What just happened to him should never happen to another president.
Voters can decide whether Mr. Trump deserves a second term. Congress would do better to focus on repairing whatever vulnerabilities the Kremlin exploited in 2016 in time for the next presidential election.
This piece originally appeared at The Wall Street Journal
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