The Trump ‘witch hunt’ is over; let’s move on

Marty Rochester

BY MARTY ROCHESTER

Donald Trump often behaves in an unpresidential fashion. That said, his misbehavior has been more than matched by the misbehavior of many of his critics during the “Russiagate” affair that has (hopefully) come to an end with the completion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation last month. 

In a March 24 letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, Attorney General William Barr summarizes Mueller’s report to him on the lengthy investigation into whether President Trump and his campaign organization “conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, or sought to obstruct the related federal investigation.”

After a nearly two-year inquiry involving 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents and myriad other professional staff, as well as almost 3,000 subpoenas, 500 search warrants and interviews of approximately 500 witnesses, costing American taxpayers more than $25 million, Barr quoted the Mueller report as stating that the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

In other words, there was no “collusion.”

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This despite the never-ending, seemingly daily reports by CNN, The New York Times, the Washington Post and other mainstream news media speculating about “bombshell” revelations thought to implicate the president in “Russian collusion.” The flurry of “fake news” stories that appeared on the air and in print from the day Trump took office represents one of the most disgraceful episodes ever in American journalism. 

As thoughtful a journalist as Ted Koppel admitted in a March 22 conversation with Marvin Kalb at a Carnegie Endowment for International Peace event that the media should be ashamed of themselves for their overwhelming anti-Trump bias and unprofessionalism. On their  lack of “objectivity,” he said “we have things appearing on the front page of the New York Times [and Washington Post] right now that never would have appeared 50 years ago.”

The Democratic Party shares in this disgraceful conduct. Note the following false accusations convicting the President before the evidence was in: 

“Obviously, we know there was collusion.” — uttered by the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-NY, hours before the release of the Mueller report.

“You have a president, who in my opinion beyond the shadow of a doubt, sought to, however ham-handedly, collude with the Russian government.” — Former Texas congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke.

“I think there’s plenty of evidence of collusion and conspiracy in plain sight.” — U.S. Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

“We saw cold, hard evidence of the Trump campaign, the Trump family, eagerly intending to collude possibly with Russia.” — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

“President Trump and his team are directly or indirectly tied to Russia.” – U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees.

Even usually thoughtful liberals got caught up mouthing over-the-top rhetoric, exemplified by presidential historian Jon Meacham, who on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Dec. 18 said “there is a live question about whether [Trump] has been giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which is the definition of treason.”

Trump constantly has been accused of being cozy with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Never mind his administration’s many actions taken against Russia, including attacking Moscow’s client state Syria when it used chemical weapons, arming Ukraine after Russia’s seizure of Crimea, castigating Angela Merkel for Germany’s excessive dependence on Russian energy supplies, blaming Russian violations for the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, expanding NATO defenses in Poland and Eastern Europe, expelling dozens of Russian diplomats and intelligence officials from the United States, and continuing economic sanctions against Russia.  

Regarding the second focus of the investigation, whether the president was guilty of “obstruction of justice” in impeding the work of the Mueller team, likewise the Mueller report failed to reach any such conclusion. More specifically, Mueller stated that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” citing some “unresolved issues.” 

In his letter, Barr wrote that he, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (a holdover from the Obama administration), “concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an ‘obstruction-of-justice’ offense.”

The bottom line is that Barr found no presidential behavior that could be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt” to constitute obstruction of justice in a federal prosecution case. Admittedly, as Alan Dershowitz has argued (Fox News, March 24), Mueller should not have equivocated on this issue because it invites lack of closure, particularly calls for further investigations on the part of media and partisan opponents of Trump.

It is likely those opponents would have persisted in their further attacks on Trump even if Mueller had not equivocated on the “obstruction” issue. It is instructive that few have apologized for their mistaken claims on the collusion issue. 

Trump has enough real flaws worth criticizing without continuing what he rightly called a “witch hunt.” And the country has enough real challenges and problems ahead without continuing the distractions of post-Mueller investigations.

We need to move on.

J. Martin Rochester, Curators’ Teaching Professor of Political Science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, is author of 10 books on international and American politics, including his latest: “New Warfare: Rethinking Rules for An Unruly World.”