When last month we learned that special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to undermine the 2016 presidential election, visibly crestfallen Democrats immediately flipped the script from “collusion” to “cover-up.” Congressional Democrats dug in for the long fight, turning their guns on Attorney General William Barr and accusing him of hiding the report. This, despite the fact that the attorney general consistently stated he would release as much of the report as legally permissible as soon as possible.
On Thursday, Attorney General Barr made good on that promise, sending to Congress a lightly redacted version of the full report. And the bottom line remains unchanged: Yes, the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but it did so without the help of the Trump campaign or the knowing assistance of any other American.
Will this be the end of our long national discussion of the Russia matter? Not likely. With more than 400 pages there will, of course, be lots of interesting tidbits to dissect in the weeks to come. (I still reread parts of the Starr report.) But none of the details change the critical finding that there was no conspiracy or cooperation with Russia.
That is because the entire Russia probe was really only about two things: (1) Russian efforts to sow political discord through social media and disinformation campaigns and (2) Russian efforts to hack into American computers. According to the report, no American assisted the Kremlin with either of these things.
Everything else — interesting though it may be — is legally irrelevant to the original purpose of the investigation. It is important to keep in mind that it is not illegal for members of a presidential campaign to have meetings with foreign nationals. (In fact, it is fairly commonplace.) Nor is it unlawful to obtain information from foreign sources or to encourage foreign nationals to release damaging information about a political opponent. Political dirty tricks? Maybe. Poor political judgment? Perhaps. But a far cry from criminal behavior. And none of it undermines Trump’s stunning and legitimate 2016 victory.
So where does that leave us on obstruction?
The Mueller report makes no formal finding, although it provides plenty of evidence that the president wanted to end the investigation. But he didn’t. And the Justice Department has concluded that the president’s frustration with what he sincerely believed to be a politically motivated attempt to cripple his presidency does not evince corrupt intent.
This puts the ball firmly in Congress’s court. House Democrats will hold hearings on the matter. They will call Mueller and Barr to testify. But toward what end?
House Democratic majority leader Steny Hoyer has already said that moving forward on impeachment is “not worthwhile” at this point. He’s right, particularly since there is zero chance of conviction by a Republican Senate. Besides, the majority of Democrats have no desire to see the president removed and replaced by a President Mike Pence.
So hearings are likely to be a waste of time. Democrats will pound the table, celebrities will tweet outrageous accusations, and late-night talk show hosts will have a field day with all of it. And yet most Americans will see this for what it is: an overly dramatic bit of political theater.
It’s time to move on.