The Mueller probe ought to ignite greater trust in institutions and in those charged with investigating wrongdoing. Whether it does so, or whether Americans on all sides cling to their blindfolds of instant certainty and continue to weaponize all political aspects of the investigation, is an important personal choice.
First, the good news. Robert Mueller was accused of conducting a witch hunt. Some on the left had interpreted his every move as leading to a criminal indictment against the president. Neither was true.
Mueller apparently let the facts guide him and his investigation, which, unfortunately, sounds so foreign in this age of hyper partisanship. But it speaks of integrity, an essential ingredient for any great nation.
Second, the most important institution of American democracy — its complicated and multi-faceted election system — held firm. The 2016 election was not rigged. Mueller apparently found no evidence the president colluded with any Russian operatives to influence the outcome.
He found plenty of evidence that people associated with the Russian government tried to do so on their own, however. The Internet Research Agency, a Russian organization, launched a social media disinformation effort “designed to sow social discord,” according to Attorney General William Barr’s report on Mueller’s “principal conclusions.”
The Russian government, meanwhile, hacked computers and stole email and other items associated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign, in an effort to influence public opinion.
As a candidate, Donald Trump didn’t help matters by publicly calling on Russia to do this, but apparently no evidence could be found to show he did any more than this.
Unfortunately, the Mueller probe did not have the kind of clean and conclusive ending needed to put all its matters to rest. When it comes to whether the president obstructed justice, Barr said, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
It was Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who concluded the evidence Mueller gathered was “not sufficient” for building a criminal case against the president.
In the public’s interest, therefore, Barr should release the complete Mueller report as soon as possible.
Even so, critics likely will continue to assail Barr’s integrity. Democrats likely will continue their own investigations of the president in various other contexts in the House. The president, not known for politeness, likely will respond in kind. As a result, the volume of rhetoric isn’t likely to get any softer leading up to the 2020 elections.
That’s a disservice to the nation. Americans are getting tired of the nastiness. Those who pursue that path are likely to find that voters are unimpressed. The country needs a return to a quieter, more competent federal government.
It’s worth remembering that the Mueller investigation confirmed that the Russians who tried to cause mischief had two main objectives. One was to undermine Americans’ confidence in their electoral process. The other was to sow divisive discord among the people.
In many ways, they succeeded on both counts.
But now they have been exposed. The 2016 election, finally, should belong to the history books.
Whether foreign operatives have any influence on future elections, through social media or in other ways, depends entirely on the American people and whether they unwittingly allow it to happen.