Last week special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his findings in the Russia investigation to the Justice Department. On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr released his summary of what he said were Mueller’s findings: Donald Trump and his associates were not guilty of conspiring with the Russians in the 2016 presidential election, but a conclusion was not made on whether the president had obstructed justice.
Trumpworld broke into a dance around its golden calf. Trump, in a tweet of course, crowed: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Trump supporters across the country celebrated “No Collusion Day.”
While Trump’s supporters were ecstatic, his opponents were crestfallen.
But as one of the people fervently opposed to the abomination of the Trump presidency and Trumpism in general, I saw in Mueller’s timing a dodged bullet.
We don’t know yet what Mueller’s actual report says or the degree to which his findings are damaging or exculpatory to Trump. But, assuming that the report roughly aligns with what Barr wrote, Trump’s opponents should be thanking their lucky stars that Mueller filed his report nearly 600 days before the presidential election, long before all of the Democratic candidates have even declared their candidacy, long before the first debates.
Imagine if these results were released later on, after candidates had locked in speculative statements about what the report would say and mean. Imagine it coming later, when it could truly give a campaign boost to Trump.
Will Trump use these findings as a campaign mantra? Of course. But in 600 days so much else will have happened that these results will no longer be front of mind.
Trump is an incorrigible character: Nothing can truly alter the essence of the man. He will continue to do and say horrible, unforgivable things because he simply can’t help himself.
Indeed, Trump could be a far more dangerous man if he had the emotional intelligence to hide his hostility, corruption and divisiveness behind a veneer of openness and rapprochement.
Imagine if he had said after the summary was released: America, for two years the specter of this investigation has loomed over my presidency and the country. Now that the results are in, let’s try to accept them and move forward in a spirit of reconciliation and common good. I know that some of you don’t agree with me or my methods, but I have your best interest at heart. I have America’s best interest at heart. Let’s do our best to find unity and agreement wherever we can and to disagree in grace wherever we can’t. America, let’s get to work.
It would all have been a lie coming from him — pretty much everything is a lie coming from him — but that kind of speech and that kind of approach would have been the start of completely changing his image and launching a formidable re-election campaign. It would have cost him none of his base, and it could have won over a portion of the middle, maybe enough of it to secure a 2020 victory.
But that’s not what he did.
Instead, he began immediately hinting at retribution, saying, “There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, some bad things, I would say some treasonous things against our country.” He said that some of those people “will certainly be looked at.”
Trump has no idea how to ride a win. He seems to see every news cycle as him starting from scratch. He couldn’t even let the Mueller findings breathe before suffocating them. Within days, the Trump administration reversed itself on an Affordable Care Act lawsuit, announcing that it now supports a complete court-ordered annihilation of the law. For millions of Americans dependent on this act, it repositioned Trump as the destroyer and Democrats as their protectors.
The gun with which Trump keeps shooting himself in the foot has an extended clip. He will continue to do this because that’s what he does. By the time the election comes around, the Mueller report will be but a footnote.
Perform this thought experiment: Try to remember what the big news was around last March 24, a year ago Sunday. You can’t. Let me remind you.
We were in the aftermath of the tragic shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. The massive “March for Our Lives” happened on March 24. On March 23, Trump pledged in a tweet:
“Obama Administration legalized bump stocks. BAD IDEA. As I promised, today the Department of Justice will issue the rule banning BUMP STOCKS with a mandated comment period. We will BAN all devices that turn legal weapons into illegal machine guns.”
As if to change the subject by jumping onto another cultural issue, also on March 23 of last year, the Trump administration issued a memo saying “that transgender persons with a history or diagnosis of gender dysphoria — individuals who the policies state may require substantial medical treatment, including medications and surgery — are disqualified from military service except under certain limited circumstances.”
I point all this out simply to say that memories fade.
Following that logic, Mueller did the Resistance a huge favor by issuing his report soon after the midterms and well in advance of the 2020 elections.
The Department of Justice has a 60-day rule about not issuing reports and filing charges too close before an election so as not to influence it. But this is more precisely a 60-day “rule of thumb,” because as Politico reported in August, “A report from the Justice Department’s inspector general in June found that the oft-discussed 60-day rule ‘is not written or described in any Department policy or regulation.’”
Still, Mueller didn’t give the Resistance 60 days but nearly 600. That is a blessing if ever there was one.
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