The crisis Mueller is sowing

The special counsel is casting doubt on the legitimacy of the sitting president — and he's still not delivering the goods

Robert Mueller.
(Image credit: Illustrated | REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein, IgorIgorevich/iStock)

Do you remember when the United States was about to have her constitutional order upended? If you printed out all the concern-trolling articles from the fall of 2016 about whether Donald Trump would "accept" the results of the presidential election and laid them end to end, they would stretch from China to Peru. As far as I recall, no one actually predicted that opioid-addicted out-of-work steelworkers in Carhartt jackets would roam the streets of Washington looting and burning and eventually installing an Alex Jones puppet government under the nominal leadership of the host of Celebrity Apprentice. The point, assuming there was one, was that the "credibility" of our election system would be undermined if one of the candidates and most of his supporters refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of the next commander-in-chief.

I made light of most of these concerns at the time. The subsequent refusal of everyone from Clinton to The Washington Post to the president's own Department of Justice to come to terms with the fact that Trump narrowly won by campaigning in crucial states his opponent didn't bother to visit has proven me wrong. Mea maxima culpa. Half the country seems to believe that Donald Trump is not the duly elected president of the United States.

If people have come to this conclusion, the rest of us have Robert Mueller and his special counsel investigation to thank. After nearly two years of hunting he has ensnared much small game but no large mammals. He has never produced any evidence that Trump colluded with either the Russian government or individuals "tied" or "linked" to Moscow. Paul Manafort is a tax cheat; Michael Cohen is a two-faced crook; members of a president-elect's cabinet occasionally meet with foreign leaders; Russians posted misleading things on Facebook; most people will stumble if asked enough questions about enough topics. These not exactly astonishing conclusions are the sum total of Mueller's efforts.

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The recent news that Trump or his associates were interested in developing real estate projects in Moscow as late as June 2016 and that Cohen lied to investigators about it is more of the same nonsense. I have no doubt that Trump may once have dreamed of building one or more skyscrapers in Russia. I also have no doubt that at some undisclosed point he has asked one or more of his hirelings to look into the possibility of building a luxury casino on Mars. Does that mean that he is a Manchurian candidate whose tenure in office is dedicated solely to advancing the interests of the Red Planet and enriching himself and his family into the bargain? Winning a successful outsider bid for the presidency of the United States seems like a very circuitous route to obtaining a building permit.

At the very least, this sort of logic should cut both ways. If you want to talk about what it means to be financially "compromised" in office, ask yourself what President Hillary Clinton might have been willing to do on behalf of the governments of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Oman, to say nothing of a vast international assortment of shady tycoons.

At this point the most obvious fair-minded explanation of the Russia investigation is that it exists to paralyze the Trump administration. It certainly monopolizes the president's attention. When he is abroad he broods over the latest media talking points from his suite. When he is in Washington, he fumes in front of the television and tweets his favorite tidbits from Fox News. The special counsel has taken his attention away from diplomacy and the other ordinary business of the presidency. Mueller has failed to deliver the goods not simply because there are no goods to deliver but because delivering them is not the point. The point is to hurt Trump.

Even if Mueller gets something real — a perjury charge, say — it won't matter anyway. There is no constitutional mechanism for the criminal prosecution of a sitting president. Mueller understands this. His fanboys should too but they insist that somehow, somewhere, in some way it must be possible to get the commander-in-chief in front of a jury. It cannot happen while he is in office. Nor should it. If it were possible to prosecute the president of the United States, the number of frivolous charges brought against the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be almost unimaginable. The White House would have to be moved to Guantanamo Bay to prevent a Republican attorney general in Nebraska from indicting a sitting Democrat on RICO charges because he vetoed legislation repealing the Affordable Care Act.

When Trump was elected president, two of my three children hadn't been born. Patrick Mahomes was a home-schooled junior quarterback at Texas Tech instead of a millionaire NFL superstar. There were three fewer Star Wars movies. I don't blame the president's enemies for using any means at their disposal to undermine his presidency — as long as they realize that their obsession with 2016 won't help them much in 2020.

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