The mountain has labored and brought forth a mouse. After two years of hype, special counsel Robert Mueller has reported to Attorney General William Barr that there was no “collusion,” as Donald Trump would put it, between Trump or the Trump presidential campaign and the Russians regarding the 2016 election. There will be no new indictments from Mueller beyond the few already issued, none of which charges a U.S. person with anything related to collusion. This is a big disappointment to the people in politics and the press who were openly hoping to see Trump, and his family, kicked out of the White House and thrown into jail.
And there were a lot of those people, as Grabien editor Tom Elliott noted last week:
►In December 2017, MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski said the Trump team might be going to jail “for the rest of their lives.”
►In December 2018, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked Delaware Sen. Chris Coons — as he often does — if he thought Trump might be facing jail time. Coons said yes, “the issues outlined against both Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, I think, continue to sharpen the ways in which it is clear that the Mueller investigation has produced a whole series of actions not previously exposed to the public.” . . .
Read more commentary:
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Russian collusion is a dead end. But the Mueller report doesn’t end the danger for Trump.
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►In December 2018, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Trump could be the first president “to face the real prospect of jail time.” . . .
►In April 2017, Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, said the evidence he had already seen suggested “people will probably go to jail.”
But actually, it was always a crock, dreamed up immediately after Hillary Clinton’s election-night defeat by her staff to explain away failure. As reported in the campaign book “Shattered,” by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Clinton refused to take responsibility for her defeat, and the day after her concession, top officials gathered “to engineer the case that the election wasn’t entirely on the up-and-up.… Already, Russian hacking was the centerpiece of the argument.”
Though this was a matter of record — the book was hardly obscure — the press chose to run with the Russia story, which quickly morphed from “hacking” to the more nebulous “collusion,” quite credulously. They did so because they wanted it to be true, because they hoped it would hurt Trump, whom the press almost universally despises, and because it was good for ratings and clicks.
Press credibility has taken a hit
The irony, of course, is that while purporting to worry about Russian interference in American politics, by advancing this story the press was actually doing Putin’s work, sowing division and confusion through the American polity.
As former Clinton pollster Mark Penn tweeted, we wasted two years, thirty million dollars, and a lot of institutional credibility at the FBI and Department of Justice over “a false story of Russia collusion based on oppo research that was always unsubstantiated and preposterous.”
Liberal journalist Matt Taibbi was even harsher, calling the Russia-collusion story WMD times a million. Taibbi noted that the press’s credibility is a major victim:
Nothing Trump is accused of from now on by the press will be believed by huge chunks of the population, a group that (perhaps thanks to this story) is now larger than his original base. As Baker notes, a full 50.3% of respondents in a poll conducted this month said they agree with Trump the Mueller probe is a “witch hunt.”
Well, that’s because it was. Leftist journalist Glenn Greenwald administered a Twitter beat-down to some of his colleagues in the media, saying: “If you constantly went on TV or wrote things to mislead millions into believing Mueller was coming to arrest Trump, Jr., Jared and a whole slew of others for conspiring with the Russians, just admit it. Save yourselves the embarrassment of all this whitewashing & pretending.”
But don’t expect any such apologies.
Collusion between the media and the FBI
We may someday need a press we can trust. But I hope not, because we certainly don’t have one.
So what’s next? Well, there may not have been Russian collusion, but there certainly was collusion between FBI agents and journalists, with agents leaking information and journalists paying them off with “tickets to sporting events, golfing outings, drinks and meals, and admittance to nonpublic social events.” And the connections between the Justice Department and the political opposition-research firm Fusion GPS (where the wife of senior Justice Department official Bruce Ohr was paid to dig up dirt on Trump) were particularly egregious.
Roger Simon writes that there is a lot of corruption yet to be investigated and prosecuted, on the part of Trump’s accusers: “It was a conspiracy and, worse yet, a conspiracy ignited and carried out from within the FBI and the Department of Justice. Nothing could be more dangerous to a democratic society than that. How high this conspiracy went is still somewhat unclear. I say ‘somewhat’ because the likelihood of it having reached into the White House of the previous administration is great. It’s hard to imagine how it could have happened otherwise.”
Will we see any accountability for the many ethical — and probably legal — breaches involving Trump’s bureaucratic opposition? Stay tuned. But the “Russian collusion” narrative has now imploded.
Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor and the author of “The New School: How the Information Age Will Save American Education from Itself,” is a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.