The Not-So Thrilling Finale To The Mueller Investigation

After almost two years of investigating, Robert Mueller has finally submitted his report on whether Donald Trump and his campaign enlisted the help of agents within and tied to the Russian government to gain an unfair advantage in the 2016 presidential election. The special counsel's finding? Negatory, my guy. Collusion, perhaps my new least favorite word, has been plastered across headlines, newsreels, and media clickbait in reference to accusations against the president and his associates since Mueller began his probe in May 2017. The ubiquity of this inquiry in American media culture has polarized the nation beyond the already extraordinary partisan divide fomented by Trump's inauguration. Detractors knew, fueled by so much bombast, so much relentless attention, that the president was guilty. Supporters knew, reinforced by constant ad hominin attacks directed against investigators and the transparently political rhetoric surrounding the probe, that it was all a farce. And now the vindication falls to the latter. Or does it?

Mueller's conclusion is not nearly as clear cut as the president's defenders and their defendant now victoriously claim. Despite not uncovering evidence to prove complicity on the part of the Trump campaign, Mueller acknowledges that Russia did attempt to influence the events of 2016. Operatives hacked the emails of Hillary Clinton and the DNC and promulgated a disinformation campaign across social media, fabricating stories to promote confusion among the American electorate. I think this revelation is easily lost in the not completely unwarranted gloating by Republicans that has swamped the news cycle is the aftermath of Mueller's submission. The profound connectedness of the world, while offering so many benefits, obviously creates a serious problem for the integrity of our most sacrosanct democratic institution. How do we determine what's real and what's fake when anyone, with resounding anonymity, can proffer believable claims to thousands, if not millions of people instantaneously?

The right's criticism of legit news-gathering operations has only made things worse. The more distrust people have for those committed to accurate news reporting, the more people seek information contradictory to what they hear and read from mass media. The more power real fake news has (however oxymoronic that sounds), the less we can make truly informed decisions. Only through a trustworthy press can we be a truly free, democratic society, but in the age of online news and endless fonts of information, we have to verify content for ourselves. We have to chisel out the truth by examining stories from multiple angles in order to understand the difference between perception and reality. Only by doing this can we secure ourselves from outside influence and generate holistic, correctly informed opinions.

Ironically, the issue left unresolved in Mueller's conclusion is the charge that precipitated the investigation in the first place: that Trump, through his firing of FBI director James Comey in 2017, attempted to obstruct the initial investigation into Russian election interference. Mueller neither threw out the charge nor found sufficiently indictable evidence that would credibly put impeachment on Congress's to-do list. Instead, the newly appointed Attorney General, William Barr, has declined to pursue the obstruction issue further. As he and his office along with the special counsel and his team are the only Americans privy to the entirety of the report, no one can say with certainty whether we should take Barr at his word. Any subsequent obstruction inquiries are now the responsibility of Congress, but with resistance from the AG and the full report's dissemination scheduled to be released in the near future, it remains to be seen whether congressional Democrats will continue in this vein.

According to NPR, just over half of the American public thinks Mueller's investigation has come to a satisfying conclusion, and 75% of respondents wish to see the full report, however, redacted this final document will be after the excision of sensitive details pertaining to national security, ongoing investigations, and executive privilege. I for one am interested in complete disclosure. While I doubt I possess the endurance to examine the more than 300-page report cover to cover, I think transparency is in the public's interest. We must be able to trust the integrity of the AG, and we must enable our legislators to perform their constitutional duty of presidential oversight.

But indeed, many people are ready to move on. And I can't blame them. Whether you lean to the right or the left, I hope we can all agree it's disgraceful that our nation's leader has languished under such domestic discord. It's painful that we've become so divided. I'm not saying the investigation was a waste of time. The results speak for themselves. Over the last 22 months, several people within the president's inner circle have faced charges and convictions for criminal actions, including Paul Manafort, Trump's one-time campaign chairman, and Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney. Although neither man was convicted of charges related to Russian election interference (Manafort for tax evasion and other financial crimes and Cohen for perjuring himself before Congress in regard to Trump's real estate endeavors in Moscow), such revelations have illuminated the reasons behind the president's staunch resistance to Mueller's investigation. Trump and his associates did have skeletons in the closet. They feared what might be dug up by the special counsel and rightly so. If this ordeal was, in fact, a witch hunt as Trump so often claimed, some cauldrons were found bubbling.

So, toil and trouble aside, where do we go from here? Although only 36% of Americans believe the investigation has eradicated any doubt of the president's wrongdoing, you have to look no further than Trump's initial response to the report's release to realize that many question why the investigation took place at all. Calling the now-concluded proceedings an "illegal takedown that failed," Trump immediately diverted the focus from himself, stating that he hopes "somebody's going to look at the other side." Was this all a vendetta-driven, cabal-sustained attack on the president? Did someone conjure up this "collusion delusion" to wring out "lies, smears, and slander" from the hate-saturated fabric of the deep-state?

Fox News pundits and those close to the president (not mutually exclusive categories) have flirted with the idea of demanding a new special counsel to look into these claims. While I think many of us are investigation-weary, perhaps this is the correct course of action. Were I in the position of the Trump camp, I'd want to leverage my sense of vindication to further justify my unwavering derision of Mueller's investigation. I would want my opponents to endure the stress that comes with a years-long inquiry into professional and political dealings. Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served probed. And were I one of the initiators of the Mueller investigation, I would welcome responsorial scrutiny so long as I had nothing to hide, because, in the end, the truth matters. We deserve the complete story, and I want to be assured that the FBI, the Justice Department, and Congress have been candid and accurate since the inception of the Russia investigation. Accountability is a two-way street.

In a perfect world or at least a perfect democracy, we would hopefully witness a boost in bipartisan compromise following the end to these proceedings. But, like the brussels sprouts slowly decomposing in the bottom of my fridge, the blood has gone bad. Perhaps even more so than in 2017, Democrats and Republicans deeply distrust one another, and the emotions surfacing in the aftermath of Mueller's conclusion only exacerbate the negative rhetoric. Despite the refreshing unanimity of the House vote to publicly release the report, I don't expect this camaraderie to continue, especially if Barr initiates new inquiries into the origins of the special counsel's appointment.

What we know for certain is that Trump has surrounded himself with ne'er-do-wells, whose crimes, without such an intensive investigation promulgated by the president's own suspicious behavior, would probably have evaded detection. We know that while Trump has been exonerated of extraordinary misconduct, Russia all-too-readily inserted itself into the 2016 election. We know that the public wants answers. But these answers differ. Going forward, let's try to heal our collective wounds. Let's try to be civil. Only by greater unison and better discernment as consumers of information can we protect ourselves in the future. And with 2020 looming, let's make sure we exemplify what it means to be a secure democracy.

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