So far, so good. President Trump has inflicted immense damage on the rule of law and on our democratic norms, but to date the system — Trump calls it the “deep state,” the rest of us call it constitutional government — has held. Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, despite threats, insults and president’s refusal to sit for an interview, completed his work. He racked up 37 indictments, convictions or plea deals (nearly 200 charges) from three Russian companies and other individuals, including the president’s former campaign chief, his former deputy campaign chief, his former national security adviser and his former personal lawyer.
Mueller revealed in indictments a widespread Russian plot to interfere with our 2016 presidential election on behalf of Trump through social media, live events and hacking. We know that multiple members of the Trump campaign had contacts with Russians, that Trump lied about doing business with Russia (when in fact he pursued a lucrative deal in Russia while running for president), and that Trump (in public comments) and associates let it be known they’d welcome the help of a hostile foreign power. Trump can holler all he wants, but we will never know if he could have won without the help of the Kremlin. We know Paul Manafort provided internal polling data to a Russian connected to Putin’s intelligence operation.
Thanks to Mueller, who referred part of his investigation to the Southern District of New York prosecutors, we also know of a conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws in order to hide from voters hush money to cover up Trump’s extramarital affairs.
We also know of Trump’s pattern to discredit and dislodge the investigations into him and his associates by, among other things, pressuring then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to un-recuse himself, imploring his White House counsel to fire Mueller, firing FBI Director James B. Comey, publicly trashing the prosecution while Manafort’s trial was ongoing, concocting false conspiracy theories (e.g., President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, the FBI misleading the FISA court), suggesting one of his potential allies take over the Southern District of New York prosecution from which he had already recused himself, drafting a misleading account of the Trump Tower meeting and refusing to sit for an interview with Mueller.
Mueller did not indict the president in violation of current Justice Department guidelines, leak to the press or respond to Trump’s outrageous attacks.
Mueller’s conduct exemplified honorable public service. His actions set an example for how prosecutors and other public servants should conduct themselves. Moreover, Mueller showed that an unhinged president could not stop an investigation into his wrongdoing.
When Trump is long gone, what will be remembered is that neither Mueller, Sessions, Comey, Rod J. Rosenstein, William P. Barr, nor even the hapless Matthew G. Whitaker, allowed Trump to thwart the investigation.
We have yet to find out whether Trump personally directed or had knowledge of his associates’ contacts with Russia. We have yet to find out whether, but for Justice Department policy against indicting a sitting president, Trump would have been charged with obstruction or other crimes. And we do not know whether Trump, his family or other associates will be charged with financial crimes arising out of the Southern District of New York’s investigation.
The country owes a deep debt of gratitude to Mueller and his team for their competence, professionalism and defense of the rule of law. Whatever the result of his report, we can say, well done, Mr. Mueller.