After 22 months of speculation, special counsel Robert Mueller released to Attorney General Bill Barr on Friday afternoon his report on allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election (which the press and Democrats winnowed down to the catch-all accusation of “collusion”). While the report itself is under wraps, Mueller and his team appear to have wrapped up their investigation without charging, indicting, or convicting any Americans for conspiring with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.
If that holds, it marks a considerable climb-down from the previous years of “treason” accusations thrown around in the media and Democrats’ lurid claims against Donald Trump from the infamous “dossier,” and accusations of Donald Trump being “Vladimir Putin’s puppet.”
Indeed, Saturday’s New York Times front page was laden with petulance and disappointment. In the lead slot, Sharon LaFraniere and Katie Benner predictably claimed that “Republicans seized” on the no-news as good news (thus far) for Trump:
Republicans immediately seized upon the news that no more indictments are expected as a vindication of Mr. Trump and his campaign. Those reports “confirm what we’ve known all along: There was never any collusion with Russia,” Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the second-highest-ranking House Republican, said in a statement.
Saturday’s front-page “news analysis” by Peter Baker kept Trump on the defensive, while suggesting in passing that the media may have its own reckoning in store, in “Turning Point Becomes Test For President”:
After nearly three years of investigation, after hundreds of interviews and thousands upon thousands of pages of documents, after scores of indictments and court hearings and guilty pleas, after endless hours of cable-television and dinner-table speculation, the moment of reckoning has arrived.
It will be a reckoning for President Trump, to be sure, but also for Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, for Congress, for Democrats, for Republicans, for the news media and, yes, for the system as a whole...
Baker was also sour about the GOP’s favorable initial reaction:
The fact that Mr. Mueller issued no further indictments as he wrapped up on Friday and never charged any Americans alleging criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia emboldened the president’s Republican allies, who promptly interpreted the results as exonerating him without having seen the report itself.
Baker also didn’t hold back:
The investigation has demonstrated as well that Mr. Trump was seeking to do business in Russia even as a presidential candidate longer than he had previously disclosed and that he surrounded himself with crooks and liars in the form of advisers who repeatedly dissembled to investigators. That includes his campaign chairman, who is going to prison for that and a variety of financial crimes.
Whether any of that adds up to impeachable offenses remained an open question. Mr. Trump has repeated the phrase “no collusion” so often -- 71 times on Twitter, according to the Trump Twitter Archive, and many more in speeches, interviews and other public statements -- that he effectively set the bar so that anything short of a taped telephone conversation with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia could be interpreted as vindication.
But if the media, including The New York Times, insists on using the term “collusion” as a term of art against Trump, is it not fair for Trump to use the same words to deny the wrongdoing?
At any rate, he continued:
Moreover, the president and his allies have raised enough questions about the conduct of his investigators to convince many of his supporters that the real scandal is the “deep state” trying to thwart the will of the democratic system by dislodging him from office. The people pursuing him, Mr. Trump argues, are motivated by partisanship or personal bias.
Baker reminded readers of Trump scandals unrelated to the question of Russian interference in the 2016 election:
Mr. Trump has also been accused of cheating on his taxes, violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause barring a president from taking money from foreign states, exaggerating his true wealth to obtain bank financing and other offenses. The sheer volume of allegations lodged against Mr. Trump and his circle defies historical parallel, possibly eclipsing, if they were all proved true, even Watergate, the nonpareil scandal of scandals.
Baker pumped up Mueller’s heroic status to try and draw Republicans on board the old get-Trump train:
But none of the investigations has carried the authority or import of Mr. Mueller’s, in part because of his longstanding reputation in both parties as a straight shooter and in part because of the investigatory tools at his disposal. The assessment by Mr. Mueller, a lifelong Republican, decorated Vietnam War hero and former F.B.I. director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, could go far, particularly with Republicans who may doubt other investigators.