Politics & Policy

La Tragicommedia è Finita

Special counsel Robert Mueller (second from left) on Capitol Hill, June 2017. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
The audience has already made up its mind about ‘Waiting for Mueller’

Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, a play in which two men sit around and wait for someone who never shows up, has been claimed by just about everyone: Freudians, Christians, existentialists.

Who’s right? I haven’t a clue.

But I have lived, all of us have lived, through a similar tragicomedy (a word Beckett added to the subtitle for the English version of his play). We’ve been waiting for Mueller. And waiting.

For some, the waiting is the hardest part. But by historic standards, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has been working at a blistering pace. Kenneth Starr’s investigation into the Whitewater scandal wasn’t fully closed down until 2001. It started in 1994. The average running time for special investigations is 904 days. Tuesday marked the 650th day since Mueller was appointed.

Most independent counsels take a year to file their first criminal charges, if they file any at all. Mueller hit that milestone a little more than five months in, and he has racked up more than 30 other indictments or guilty pleas since then.

And yet, for the “get Trump media” (as Alan Dershowitz and others call it), it’s never enough. Whenever news breaks in the probe, or when news doesn’t break, for that matter, the response tends to be the same: “Remember, we don’t know what Mueller knows.” Watch CNN or MSNBC for a few minutes and someone will say this — gleefully when the news is already bad for Trump, reassuringly when the news is disappointingly good for Trump.

“Always keeping in mind that Mueller knows so much more than he has shown,” former CBS newsman Dan Rather told CNN’s Don Lemon. “If you think [Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and Paul Manafort’s conviction] was a shock to our democratic system, just stay tuned. Because the other things Mueller is working on, and sooner or later we’ll find out what they are, is going to make yesterday pale by comparison.”

Well, what if it doesn’t? One of the reasons we keep hearing that “Mueller knows more” is that he has delivered less. For all of the drama and the embarrassments, Mueller has yet to file a single charge on the core allegation that justified the launch of the probe in the first place — the allegation that Donald Trump “colluded” with Russia.

Sure, the gaudy remoras that attached themselves to Trump’s hide have had a rough time of it. Manafort, who made a career of colluding with horrible regimes, may never have another meal not thwacked from a large spoon onto a prison tray. Roger Stone may join Cohen in the Stoney Lonesome as well. And obviously, Trump has made things worse for himself by seeming like he’s got a lot to hide.

But it looks more and more likely that Mueller’s dance of a thousand veils will end with . . . more veils. The Mueller obsessives want him to be a deus ex machina who delivers irrefutable grounds for impeachment and I-told-you-sos. But that Mueller may never arrive. He may never even say a word about it in public at all.

That’s in part because the Russia piece of his portfolio is under the rubric of a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal one. This means he’s under no obligation to file any public report at all. He could submit a report to the newly confirmed attorney general, Bill Barr, but Barr can reveal whatever he wants to the public, assuming the president says it’s OK. Or he can reveal nothing at all.

But waiting for Mueller to prove himself a savior may not pan out, for the simpler reason that he can’t find what doesn’t exist. To say that Trump was morally capable of colluding with Russia is not the same thing as saying that he did.

If you listen very closely to former FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe, there was never hard evidence of Trump’s colluding beyond the president’s weird statements and behavior in response to the Russia probe. The problem is that you don’t need an international conspiracy to explain why Trump says and does weird things — unless you’ve already decided he’s guilty.

That’s why this tragicomedy will not come to an end with the end of the Mueller probe. The audience, on both sides, had already decided what it was about when they entered the theater.

Copyright © 2019 Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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