Time to Move On from the Mueller Report

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It seems like everyone is upset over the Mueller report. Some Democrats in Congress insist on seeing the original without any redactions whatsoever. President Trump is angry that it casts him in a negative light, as are many of his supporters. The media is indignant that President Trump’s defenders continue to defend him.

But as for me, I couldn’t be happier. There really is so much to celebrate.

The President’s supporters should be elated, because Trump is accused of no criminal wrongdoing. Democrats should feel vindicated, because the report makes clear beyond a doubt that the internal culture of the Trump administration is toxic. The media should be proud to know that Mueller’s report confirms the investigative journalism of the past two years to have been shown to be mostly accurate, claims of “fake news” notwithstanding.

But most of all, and far more important than anything else, the American people should breathe a sigh of relief, because Mueller’s report confirms that our system still works. We have just witnessed a process of which few governments, now or ever, have been capable: an objective investigation of a sitting Head of State, conducted with professionalism, accuracy, and integrity. The main winners of this whole process are the American people and our civic institutions.

When Robert Mueller was appointed as Special Counsel, both Republicans and Democrats praised the choice. At the time, there was a general sense that something was amiss, and that an independent investigation was needed to examine things. Mueller’s integrity and reputation for nonpartisan straight-shooting made him the ideal choice. At a time of great polarization, Mueller’s appointment was a rare moment of bipartisan consensus.

But the consensus didn’t last long. Slowly, concerns crept in about political bias among some employees of the FBI who had initiated the investigation before the election. One member of Mueller’s team was dismissed from the Special Counsel’s office, and later fired from the FBI. President Trump began to call the investigation a “witch hunt,” even though it was being overseen by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, a Republican and Trump appointee.

Meanwhile, prominent left-leaning media responded with barely concealed scorn for the President. Though their reporting was usually careful and accurate, at times it seemed they could barely conceal their hope that President Trump would turn out to be a crook, a second Nixon. While the Mueller report itself has exonerated the media from Trump’s claims of “witch hunts” and “fake news,” the media nonetheless gave fuel to that fire. Constantly obsessing over every twist and turn of the investigation, nearly always giving pride of place to mere gossip, America’s media can be accused of having insufficiently covered more concrete and consequential news for the last year and a half. Sometimes they seemed desperate to bring Trump down.

Despite all of this noise, and under incredible stress and attacks from all sides, Mueller and his team kept their heads down and worked diligently, like the nonpartisan professionals they are. In a political culture in which leaks and intrigue are the norm, the Mueller team was able to complete its 18-month investigation leak-free. It has set the standard for all such future investigations.

I hope we can take the time as a culture to rejoice that, despite the chaos and hoopla of the moment, integrity in civic life is still possible—perhaps on life support, yes, but not completely dead, and capable of being resurrected. Bob Mueller is a symbol of an older, more honorable generation of American public servants, one for which duty outweighed self-promotion, and objectivity outweighed self-interest. In a political world in which “alternative facts” are bandied about, Bob Mueller holds to a worldview in which, to paraphrase Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we are entitled to our own opinions but not to our own facts. The Mueller report was able to uncover the truth.

Because of the report’s thoroughness and integrity, we must take it seriously. I, for myself, am incredibly thankful that it found that neither Trump nor his campaign actually conspired with the Russians. That would have been a disastrous revelation indeed, for all sorts of legal, political, and cultural reasons. No matter how much one dislikes President Trump, it’s a relief to find that there was no conspiracy.

We must also take seriously the fact that the President was not exonerated from the accusation that he obstructed justice. The President and his administration were demonstrated to be willing to lie in order to protect the Trump Presidency. Most damningly of all, President Trump was saved from a clear charge of obstruction, largely because his subordinates refused to carry out his orders. It’s not a pretty picture. Mitt Romney said he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the President,” and I share the sentiment.

And yet, with the Mueller investigation completed, it’s time to move on. Although the conclusions of the report could, arguably, justify impeachment on legal and moral grounds, it would be a foolish and divisive endeavor politically. A significant majority of Americans oppose impeachment. As things stand now, there are not enough willing votes in the Senate to convict and remove the President from office. The country is about to have a presidential election in eighteen months. If we were only six months into President Trump’s term, perhaps impeachment would make more sense. But at this point, Trump’s fate should be decided by American voters at the ballot box, not by a polarized U.S. Congress.

Some will find this conclusion hard to stomach. Some would prefer continuing investigations into the President’s wrongdoings on any number of issues, from his personal tax returns to the activities of the Trump Organization and beyond.

This would be a terrible mistake. It’s vindictive and political in the worst sense, and distracts from more important legislative work. It would so alienate the President from the rest of the American government that any hope of finding common ground on important legislation would be lost. It would be a waste of the last 18 months of President Trump’s term.

Instead, we need to put the report aside, leave judgment of Trump to history (and the 2020 elections,) and move on to doing the peoples’ business. It is not yet too late to salvage Trump’s presidency in the interests of the American people. With courage and resolve, and a significant dose of humility on all sides, the President and Congress can still get bipartisan legislation passed on immigration and infrastructure, among possibly other things. It’s not too late to extend a hand to the president, to convince him that the best way to put the Mueller report behind him is to work in a bipartisan manner to accomplish something significant.

In his insightful book, If We Can Keep It, Michael Tomasky recounts a profound story about bipartisanship. During the contentious debate leading up to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Acts, daily briefings about the progress of the bill were being held outside the office of Republican Minority Leader Everett Dirksen, rather than Democratic Majority Leader Mike Mansfield. Democrats complained. But Mansfield, who was a true believer in depolarization and bipartisanship (who even went so far as to encourage Senators of different parties to carpool together in order to get to know each other better,) explained:

“If the public can see the Republican leader each day reporting on the progress…it will be very beneficial for the country to grasp that this bill was being drafted by both parties even in an overwhelmingly Democratic congress.”

We need something of this spirit now, a spirit which puts the public good above political advantage. Would Democrats be justified in pursuing endless investigations to embarrass the president? Perhaps. But it wouldn’t be good for the country. It would be better, for the country, for Democrats to offer an olive branch to the President, recognizing that there’s work to do, and that it can only be done in a spirit of collaboration. President Trump might not be a man of integrity, but he is the President, and he deserves, at minimum the respect that office holds. We should trust the voters in 2020 to decide if he should stay there.

We should be grateful to Robert Mueller for his excellent work. But we should also follow his example of putting duty to country above self, and above petty political calculation. The Mueller report was important and consequential- but now is the time to move on.

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6 thoughts on “Time to Move On from the Mueller Report”

  1. David Ludescher

    Justin,

    I wish I could share your enthusiasm for the Mueller investigation, its processes, and the results. It was never clear to me who hired Mueller, and for what purpose. I find it hard to believe that there can be anything close to an independent investigation when one government official hires another official to investigate a third official.

    I was led to believe that Mueller was to investigate Russian collusion in influencing the 2016 election. Huh?! I do not know a single person who was influenced by the Russians in the election. And, so what if they were? In a free society of free speech, does it really matter who is putting out the material to try to influence the American voters? I saw Americans running for Congress who were distributing intentionally misleading propaganda pieces. About 1/2 of them got elected.

    In the end, did it really take Mueller 18 months of hard-hitting investigation to find that there was no evidence of collusion? If there was nothing at the end, was there anything in the beginning? On that point, Trump seems to be accurate; the investigation was a “witch-hunt” – that found no witches.

    Mueller claims, perhaps rightly, that Trump tried to “obstruct justice” by ordering people to interfere in his investigation – an investigation that found no wrongdoing. It may be more accurate to describe what Trump attempted to do as “obstruction of injustice”. Many of the people who were indicted and convicted were convicted of lying to federal agents and/or obstructing justice. Really? So, Mueller finds nothing of consequence but people are in trouble for lying about nothing important?

    And, what about guys like Mannafort who were indicted and convicted of crimes unrelated to the investigation? What is Mueller doing furthering investigations outside of the original scope of the allegations? And, what about indicting Russians who live outside of the United States? Was that act anything but a dog and pony show?

    I attribute a more sinister motive to the Mueller investigation. Judging by many of the comments unearthed, the intelligence community, especially the FBI was pro-establishment and decidedly against Trump. They feared, probably rightly, that Trump would come in and upset the entire community, possibly firing them as he fired people on The Apprentice. The tactic was to fight back by accusing the president of enough wrongdoing that he couldn’t fire them all.

    To that extent, the Mueller investigation worked. It was long, drawn out, and secretive. It offered no means of a quick Trump attack forcing Trump to wait out the investigation. And, Mueller produced enough indictments to intimidate everyone working under or for Trump. In the end, no collusion was found, thereby vindicating Trump. At the same time, Mueller left the obstruction charge hanging with a finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to convict, but leaving the definite impression that Trump better be careful.

    What the Mueller investigation accomplished, whether intentionally or unintentionally, was a restoration of the the old balance of power between the presidency and the intelligence community. There were lots of casualties on both sides – Comey, Sessions, Rosenstein, Mannafort, Flynn, etc. It is all quite remarkable considering that when the truce was finally announced, we are back in almost the exact same place we started – each side believing what is most convenient.

    1. Justin Naylor

      Thanks for your comment David. It’s certainly a topic which elicits passion on all sides! As you know I have a more optimistic view of the whole thing. I think one thing that we differ on is our willingness to give the benefit of the doubt to those who work in government. Perhaps I’d change my tune if I saw government agencies in action, but everything I have perceived suggests that the vast majority of public servants do their jobs with professionalism and integrity. I’m always a little worried of theories which sound like conspiracies because it’s impossible to disprove a conspiracy theory by definition. What I saw in the Mueller investigation was professionals doing a job as objectively as human beings are able with a result I can have confidence in. I’m worried that second guessing the motives and integrity of such professionals takes us down a dark road because then no one can be trusted and our institutions begin to collapse.

      1. David Ludescher

        Justin,

        I am not second-guessing Mueller’s motives or integrity. I am first-guessing the motives and integrity of those in charge of starting the investigation. The Mueller investigation was itself a dark road because its sole purpose was to question investigate the possible crimes of a duly elected president. It was done on such thin grounds that Trump justifiably called it a “witch hunt”. I am no supporter of Trump, there never was or could have been a casual connection from “collusion” to affecting a single vote of a single American.

        1. David, the investigation was actually put into motion to look into Russian meddling in our election, which it’s been show without a doubt has happened, and will happen once again next year.

          1. David Ludescher

            Randy,
            Where in the Mueller report does it show “without a doubt” that there has been Russian meddling? Is there some other report to which you are referring? Where is your evidence?
            I never understood on what base of evidence the Mueller investigation was started, so I am not surprised that it didn’t find sufficient evidence to conclude there was meddling. I do not know a single person has claimed to have had the elusive Russian meddling affect their freely given vote. Do you?
            I am more concerned about campaign ads of the candidates affecting the election than I am with inaccurate Facebook ads, no matter who pays for them. That said, democracy depends upon a free exchange of ideas, even from bad sources, such as the candidates.
            I don’t know who or how the Mueller investigation got started. But, from a distance it sure looks like the intelligence community was willing to stage an investigation to keep Trump in check. The good news – it worked.

      2. David Ludescher

        Justin,

        I have done some tracing of the origins of the Mueller investigation. The “orders” for the Mueller investigation came from the acting Attorney General. My understanding is that the Attorney General operates under the executive branch, which was headed by President Trump when the the order issued. However, the initial investigation of Trump was (apparently) begun by James Comey while Comey worked under a Democratic president – Obama.
        A quick look at what is now happening with Attorney General Barr suggests we are well down the dark road of lack of trust. By refusing to accept the conclusions of the Mueller report, the Democrats are now self-imploding what little trust Americans have for Congress.

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