The Mueller re­port is still an in­dict­ment of a cor­rupt, self-deal­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion

The Buffalo News - - OPINION - Wash­ing­ton Post Writ­ers Group

WASH­ING­TON – A thought ex­per­i­ment. Sup­pose that on March 24 – the day At­tor­ney Gen­eral Wil­liam Barr pub­licly sum­ma­rized the Mueller re­port -- all of the re­sults of the spe­cial coun­sel’s probe that have drib­bled out over the last two years had been revealed at once.

Amer­i­cans would have dis­cov­ered that a hos­tile for­eign power had en­gaged in ma­jor in­tel­li­gence op­er­a­tions de­signed to elect Don­ald Trump – some­thing con­sis­tently de­nied by the pres­i­dent him­self.

In this hy­po­thet­i­cal, Robert Mueller would have si­mul­ta­ne­ously an­nounced the in­dict­ment of 34 Rus­sians and Amer­i­cans – a net­work of es­pi­onage and cor­rup­tion in­clud­ing hack­ers, Rus­sian mil­i­tary of­fi­cers and high-level op­er­a­tives of the 2016 Trump cam­paign.

Sup­pose the re­port had revealed that 14 Trump cam­paign of­fi­cials had been in con­tact with Rus­sian na­tion­als, in­clud­ing the pres­i­dent’s son, who had met with Rus­sian op­er­a­tives in an at­tempt to gain in­for­ma­tion harm­ful to Hil­lary Clin­ton’s cam­paign.

Sup­pose it had been revealed that sev­eral Trump ad­vis­ers and op­er­a­tives had lied to the FBI and Congress in an at­tempt to con­ceal the ex­tent of th­ese con­tacts, and also that some of Trump’s clos­est ad­vis­ers – in­clud­ing his cam­paign chair­man – were guilty of con­spir­acy and fraud.

Sup­pose it had been revealed that Trump him­self, while a Repub­li­can can­di­date, had con­tin­ued to pur­sue a mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar busi­ness deal to place a Trump Tower in Moscow. And that there was se­ri­ous though not con­clu­sive ev­i­dence that Trump ob­structed jus­tice dur­ing the Mueller in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Yes, it would still be news that Mueller did not be­lieve that Trump and his cam­paign had di­rectly co­or­di­nated with Rus­sia, and that Trump him­self would not be in­dicted for a crime. But that would only be part of the story – a story of cor­rup­tion, crim­i­nal­ity and cover-up. The story of a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion that should have an as­ter­isk ex­plain­ing that the out­come may have been sub­stan­tially in­flu­enced by a for­eign power.

But all th­ese dis­turb­ing facts did not come out at once. And Trump and his team pro­vided a mas­ter class in con­trol­ling ex­pec­ta­tions. Trump con­sis­tently set out the standard of judg­ment he wished – “No col­lu­sion! – in the knowl­edge that he was not per­son­ally guilty of col­lu­sion. And when this was (seem­ingly) con­firmed by Mueller, Trump and his team de­clared un­con­di­tional vic­tory.

This has led to an un­usual cir­cum­stance. Trump sup­port­ers are do­ing a vic­tory dance over the fact that he isn’t a Rus­sian agent, just a Rus­sian stooge. And Trump’s sup­port­ers are spik­ing the ball fol­low­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion that did not clear the pres­i­dent of ob­struc­tion charges. So it is still a le­gal judg­ment call whether or not the pres­i­dent is a crook.

Trump may not know much, but he knows law­suits and le­gal pro­ceed­ings. In this in­stance, he did not claim, “My staff has the high­est ethical stan­dards!” That would have been laugh­able. He did not say, “My first choice for na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser wasn’t a na­tional se­cu­rity threat!” Be­cause he was. Trump claimed, in essence, that he did not di­rectly con­spire with Rus­sia to win an elec­tion. Then he cleared an an­kle-high bar.

Though Trump and his team are sav­aging the me­dia for its cov­er­age of the scan­dal, the pres­i­dent is ben­e­fit­ing from its shal­low­ness. Much news cov­er­age is based on an elec­toral par­a­digm: Who won and who lost?

Th­ese events are more com­plex. Barr’s sum­mary of the Mueller re­port is the most fa­vor­able in­ter­pre­ta­tion Trump is likely to get. The re­port it­self may be a cat­a­log of hor­ri­ble judg­ment, un­eth­i­cal be­hav­ior and non­crim­i­nal cor­rup­tion. It may put Trump Inc. in a very bad light. If and when it comes out in full. In the mean­time, the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is de­fen­dant, judge and jury.

The full re­port, how­ever, may re­quire re­vised judg­ments from some of Trump’s crit­ics as well. Per­haps the pres­i­dent is not a for­eign agent or a crim­i­nal mas­ter­mind. Per­haps he is a weak leader who sur­rounds him­self with clowns and crim­i­nals. Per­haps his lack of char­ac­ter at­tracts and en­ables other cor­rupt men. Per­haps he is more pa­thetic than dic­ta­to­rial, more fool than knave. Per­haps be­hind the com­pul­sive, sim­plis­tic, nar­cis­sis­tic ex­te­rior there is a com­pul­sive, sim­plis­tic, nar­cis­sis­tic in­te­rior. Per­haps he has moved be­yond good and evil, en­forc­ing only one code: loy­alty to his per­son. Integrity and com­pe­tence be damned.

All this may not be crim­i­nal. But it mocks our coun­try in a dif­fer­ent way.

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