During the last two weeks, our political world has been dissecting a sentence in the summary of the Mueller Report that Attorney General William Barr sent to the leaders of Congress: “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.”
Fox News commentators exulted at the news while their colleagues at MSNBC went into mourning. Similarly opposed reactions were in display in newspapers as well as on other cable news channels, and the Internet. The radically different feelings the Mueller Report summary generated are another evidence of the profound divisions in our society.
I heard the news with a deep sense of relief. For people old enough to remember the Watergate scandal – or curious enough to have studied it in detail – the attorney general’s summary meant that we had avoided a dangerous and painful constitutional crisis.
Had the Mueller investigation concluded that President Donald Trump conspired with the Russian government, we could be right now in a crisis far worse that the one that ended with Richard Nixon’s resignation. While the opponents of President Trump might see his administration as a problem, it is hard to imagine they could think a new Watergate would be the solution.
Trump supporters, of course, are celebrating that after 675 days of investigation by 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff, and more than 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 230 orders for communication records and the testimony of 500 witnesses, no definitive proof that the president conspired with Russia was found.
In addition to that, they had another reason to celebrate later in the week. Michael Avennati, the lawyer for Stormy Daniels, the pornographic actress who allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump in 2006, was arrested on extortion charges the day after the Attorney General sent his letter to Congress.
But the fact that the Special Counsel “did not draw a conclusion, one way or the other” about whether the president committed obstruction of justice will keep the story alive. When the redacted report is sent to Congress in April, political opponents and critics of the president in the media will find enough fodder to continue the attrition war against the administration.
The president’s supporters should bear in mind that two years in American politics is an eternity. By the time we go to the polls in 2020, the most important news we read during the last two weeks could turn out to be not the Mueller Report, but the GDP growth rate forecast for the first quarter of 2019 at 1.5 percent, confirming the declining tendency of the previous two quarters.
On the other hand, Democrats wishing for impeachment or forcing Trump to resign should remember that Watergate gave them the Carter single-term presidency followed by 12 years of Reagan and Bush and the renaissance of the conservative movement.
Meanwhile, we seem destined to live the next 18 months in the aftermath of the Mueller report, listening to endlessly opposed interpretations of the same document because each cable channel and network now gives us the version of the truth its audience wants to hear.