The Morning Jolt

White House

A Very Merry Mueller Monday

Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., June 21, 2017 (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Dig in, Trump fans. The release of the Mueller report — or at least Attorney General William Barr’s summary — means it’s gloating time. In retrospect, the $25 million or so spent on the probe may turn out to be some of the best money spent by this administration. Also, it appears a prominent liberal celebrity can’t read.

President Trump’s Best Weekend Ever!

No matter how well your weekend went — whether you enjoyed the good weather, whether you’re still at the top of your NCAA bracket pool, whether you’re an AFC East defense that won’t have to cover New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski anymore — you still didn’t have as good of a weekend as President Trump did.

  • “The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the special counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be public.”

  • “The special counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election.”

  • “The Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

  • “After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

This newsletter could be just an endless series of gifs of people laughing.

As I noted last night and way back in May 2017, there was always a glaring hole in the “Russia and Trump worked together on the 2016 election, offering friendly relations in exchange for hacking computers and releasing damaging information” theory. That plot would require Russia to engage in an unprecedented conspiracy with several Americans, both prominent and obscure, and leave absolutely no trace that U.S. intelligence agencies could detect. The FBI watches Russians on U.S. soil closely, the NSA’s surveillance and interception abilities are unmatched, and you would like to think that the CIA watches what Vladimir Putin is doing really closely.

Didn’t it seem a little weird from the start that Christopher Steele would manage to uncover a vast Russian effort to blackmail one of America’s biggest celebrities and the Republican nominee for president — and the CIA, NSA, and every other U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement agency completely missed it?

Every once in a while, I would count the days of the Mueller investigation and observe that if Mueller had found evidence that Trump was a Russian spy or asset, or that the president had been blackmailed or compromised in some way, the special counsel would not dilly dally about informing Congress and the public about this. That’s not the sort of thing you leave sitting on your desk during a long weekend. Just about every time, some snotty liberal would argue that the length of the investigation did not disprove the worst accusations against Trump, and that I should just wait and see. Now we see, and now we know!

Now we know the BuzzFeed bombshell — the claim that Mueller found evidence that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie under oath to Congress — was wrong and not based upon reliable sources. It’s time for editor Ben Smith to stop hiding behind the standard “we stand by our reporting” mantra and explain  how his publication reported that false claim.

Speaking of which, doesn’t the decision to publish the Steele dossier look even less responsible, now that we know its central accusations cannot be verified by the work of 19 lawyers, approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff, more than 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, more than 230 orders for communication records, almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewing approximately 500 witnesses?

(The sad thing is you know some vehement Trump foe somewhere is going to argue that Mueller’s investigation wasn’t complete enough, or didn’t take enough time, left some avenue of investigation unexplored, or didn’t have enough resources.)

Remember back on February 11, when Schiff started complaining that Mueller hadn’t spent enough time looking at Trump’s finances? Did high-level Democrats get some signal that Mueller’s report was not going to offer the smoking gun they were looking for? Or could they just read the handwriting on the wall that a lot of folks on the Right were, that if Mueller was still working on his report after 600 days, he probably didn’t find a smoking gun?

One of the joys of getting older is the recurring realization that you’ve seen all of this happen before. If you paid attention to politics in 2005, you saw “Fitzmas” — the time when special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald completed a two-year investigation into the leaking of Valerie Plame’s name with a five-count indictment of Scooter Libby. That’s nothing to sneeze at, but Democrats had convinced themselves then that Fitzgerald was going to set up Bush’s impeachment. (Whole books were written about how this was coming down the pike.) Plame’s husband Joe Wilson declared, “At the end of the day, it’s of keen interest to me to see whether or not we can get Karl Rove frog-marched out of the White House in handcuffs. And trust me, when I use that name, I measure my words.” A little-known left-wing web site  the Rove had been indicted and had been given 24 hours to get his affairs in order.

The Mueller Investigation: Money Well Spent!

There’s a flip side to this, which is that this wasn’t much of a “witch hunt” after all. Knowing how quickly President Trump can change his mind, it would not be surprising if, in the coming days, Trump started praising Mueller’s professionalism and fair-mindedness, and declared that he always liked and trusted him.

Trump fans complained the Mueller investigation was a waste of money. It now looks like the opposite. From Trump’s perspective, the $25 million or so spent on the probe are some of the best money the government has spent during his presidency because it’s now going to function as an inoculation against all of the other accusations made against him.

Hardly a day goes by without Democrats and Trump foes making some new accusation against the president, some credible, some extremely outlandish. But the whole “Russia-gate” accusation has now crashed and burned, and it wasn’t just a bunch of random kooks who made these assertions: Jonathan Chait, Morton Kondrake, Bill Maher, Brett Arends, Paul Krugman, VICE, Sky News, MacLean’s, the Daily Mail, the Huffington Post, Reuters, Salon . . . 

Now every accusation against Trump — including allegations of misbehavior supported by material evidence, such as the check in the Stormy Daniels scandal — will be dismissed as more “fake news, just like the Russia collusion accusation.” Millions of Americans, having watched the furious speculation about Trump’s Russia connections turn into Al Capone’s vault, will conclude that future accusations are more of the same.

Can Celebrities Read? If So, Why Do They Choose Not To?

One other key lesson of this: Many of the loudest voices in the public square simply don’t read. I don’t mean that they can’t read, but they simply choose not to do so. Last night actress and liberal activist Alyssa Milano asked, “If there was nothing in the report why won’t they just release it? If the report fully exonerated him or his family, he’d have it all out in seconds. Wouldn’t he?”

The explanation for the delay is right there in Attorney General Robert Barr’s letter. It’s not hidden. It’s not obscure. It’s not mysterious, inexplicable, or shadowy.

Some portions of Mueller’s report deal with testimony before a grand jury. Grand juries are not like criminal trials; the aim of a grand-jury proceeding is not to prove innocence or guilt but to prove sufficient evidence to charge someone with a crime. There is no defense attorney present or cross-examination of testifying witnesses. Because of this lower threshold, the government cannot publicly release information about what is discussed before a grand jury without meeting certain legal requirements. (Those who testify before grand juries are generally free to discuss the proceedings, although there are exceptions.) Barr has to go through the report with the special counsel’s lawyers and determine what parts discuss or cite grand-jury testimony. Barr also wrote that he must identify any information that “could impact other ongoing matters, including those that the Special Counsel has referred to other offices.” During the course of his investigation, Mueller handed off the prosecution of Michael Cohen, Marina Butina, and 12 Russian citizens to other federal prosecutors. Barr doesn’t want the released version of Mueller’s report to louse up the prosecution of any other ongoing case.

The celebrity-activist types don’t know how any of this works, and they don’t care to do the two minutes of Googling to understand how these processes work. They encounter something that surprises them and they conclude it must be something unusual and sinister. This is why you’re not supposed to get your guidance and analysis of political events from people who are best known and beloved for playing a housekeeper’s daughter or a charming witch. They don’t know how anything works, and you’re left knowing less than if you hadn’t heard from them at all.

ADDENDA: Our Teddy Kupfer makes a fair point about rents, mortgages, and perceptions of prosperity. Ramesh notices that Jim Comey’s argument about impeachment doesn’t make much sense. Maybe Comey is lost in the woods — metaphorically, or perhaps literally.

Hey, can I get those Robert Mueller prayer candles at a discount now?

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