White House

Our Long National Hysteria 

President Donald Trump speaks to the press regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C., March 24, 2019. (Mike Theiler/Reuters)

Our long national hysteria may not be over, but at least it should — by rights — be diminished.

Robert Mueller delivered his long-awaited report on Friday, and Attorney General William Barr just released his summary of the findings. They completely vindicate President Trump regarding the allegation that his campaign colluded with the Russians during the 2016 election, and also conclude that he didn’t commit the crime of obstruction of justice.

The Russia finding couldn’t be starker. In his letter Barr quotes directly from the report:  “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” This, according to Barr, after more than 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 230 orders for communication records, 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, and interviews with roughly 500 witnesses. If there were any evidence of collusion, Mueller would have found it.

It always seemed unlikely, if not outright preposterous, that the Russians would have entrusted a sensitive intelligence operation to the most shambolic general-election campaign in modern memory. There was no reason to collude with the Trump campaign, in any case — the Russians obviously hacked Democrats’ emails, on their own, and then released them via their WikiLeaks cutout, on their own. Nonetheless, even as Mueller indictments and plea deals piled up, with no suggestion of collusion in sight, Trump critics could never give up on the idea.

The media was obsessed, and always implied there was some devastating revelation just over the horizon. MSNBC and CNN took every minor scooplet from outlets such as the Washington Post and the Daily Beast and blew them up into major stories. The press, in its zeal to believe the worst, sometimes published too-good-to-check erroneous reports. Otherwise serious opinion writers accused Trump of being a traitor or perhaps a Russian asset since 1987. John Brennan assured everyone that there was no doubt that there was collusion. Democrats such as Adam Schiff said the same.

It’d be a nice contribution to the public discourse if any of these people admitted they were wrong, but instead they will all move on, looking for the next blockbuster to destroy Trump looming somewhere over the next hill.

As for obstruction, that’s come a cropper, too, although the Barr letter is careful to note that Mueller doesn’t exonerate Trump on this score. Clearly, Trump hated the probe and, if he’d had his own way, would have ended it. He never did, though. Since Trump wasn’t guilty of collusion, it’s hard to see what his corrupt motive would have been justifying an obstruction charge — indeed, the chief cause of his rage seems to have been that he was indeed, as he insisted all along, innocent of collusion, yet subjected to years-long investigation. Also, it’s dubious that a president can obstruct justice while exercising his lawful powers. So Mueller left the legal question to Barr, who concluded there wasn’t evidence of a crime.

Democrats are now clamoring for the full Mueller report, hoping it reveals something more damaging than what is alluded to in the Barr letter. Although we are sure there are embarrassing details, Barr notes that most of the episodes related to obstruction are already known. Still, we favor maximum disclosure, mindful of the restrictions on disclosing grand-jury material — as well as disclosure of as many materials as possible related to how this investigative train got running in the first place.

We said at the outset of the Mueller probe that we preferred an independent commission as the more appropriate venue for a public airing of the facts around Russian interference. Mueller ended up proceeding in the same rut as most special-counsel probes, prosecuting a lot of process crimes and a few more-serious offenses not directly related to the matter at hand. There was plenty to work with here, since Trump’s associates, from Paul Manafort to Roger Stone, were such a motley, sleazy crew. They are marks against his judgment; that never made Trump a traitor.

If nothing else, Mueller will have accomplished something important if he’s managed to put that poisonous charge to bed.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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