HILLSBORO, Ohio — It might be expected that the conclusion of the Russia collusion investigation would be greeted in Trump Country with celebration, relief or even a degree of gloating.
That’s not the case. Here in southern Ohio and, likely, other places where President Trump’s support has remained rock solid, the conclusion by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that neither Trump nor anyone associated with his campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election was greeted with a collective shrug. That’s because, for Trump Country, the findings represented a foregone conclusion.
Apprised that the Mueller report had found no collusion, one woman at a Hillsboro diner on Sunday summed up the feelings of most here when she replied, “So what? We already knew that, didn’t we?”
Trump’s base has long regarded the Mueller investigation as a political exercise springing from the refusal of Trump’s opponents to accept his election. They also know that the Mueller report will not be the end of what they see as a string of partisan investigations. They know Democrats, “Never Trumpers” and many in the media will quickly pivot, generating as many future headlines as possible from ongoing state probes and congressional investigations. That beat goes on.
Since it won’t get repeated as often as it deserves after nearly two years of manufactured suspicion, it’s important to note this from Attorney General William P. Barr’s summary of Mueller’s probe: “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” Later, the summary added that such collusion did not happen “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
Instead of all Americans, regardless of political affiliation — along with every legitimate media organization — collectively celebrating the fact that our president was found not to have conspired with Russia, too many pundits on Sunday focused on Mueller’s failure to determine whether Trump had obstructed justice. After Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein agreed that evidence of obstruction did not lend itself to a crime, both CNN and MSNBC, during the first hour after the release of Barr’s report, spent more time focused on the obstruction question than on the collusion exoneration, based on my own toggling back and forth between networks. It was the only thin straw left to grasp.
(To his credit, CNN’s Anderson Cooper, later in the evening, countered some critical guests by reflecting what most Americans were likely feeling, offering, “Just overall, if it is a fact that the president and the people around him did not actually collude with Russians who were involved in this election, that’s a great thing for this country.” Thank you, Mr. Cooper.)
On Saturday, key congressional Democrats held a conference call to discuss “strategy” prior to the release of the Mueller findings. Strategy? What strategy is needed to provide an honest reaction to Mueller’s report? Shouldn’t the strategy be to express alarm if collusion was found, relief and reassurance if it wasn’t? No, a strategy call was needed because, as a Post headline made clear before the findings were released, “Democrats insist on pursuing Trump investigations no matter what Mueller concludes.”
Democrats spent two years circling the wagons around Mueller, casting him as a paragon of virtue, an unassailable arbiter of truth, worrying endlessly that Trump might fire him. But over the weekend, they and many in the media began questioning his competence. After it was announced Friday that no more indictments would be forthcoming, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews was beside himself.
“Maybe he missed the boat here,” Matthews said of Mueller. “Because we know about the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, we know about the meeting at the cigar bar with [Konstantin] Kilimnik. ... All these dots we’re now to believe don’t connect.”
Since Trump’s election, too many in the media have mistaken disconnected dots for tangible facts. Everyone’s life is marked by random dots that can be extrapolated to suggest the worst conclusions.
At this point, Trump’s base will see the failure by some to accept Mueller’s findings (coupled with ongoing additional state and congressional investigations) not just as attacks on the president but also as assaults on the voters who put him in the White House. They will increasingly take it personally, as another elitist, second-guessing of every man and woman who voted for him. No greater motivator to vote will be needed for 2020.
Since May 2017, Trump had insisted there was “no collusion” at least 231 times. Fact checkers who revel in compiling lists of the president’s “lies and misleading statements” should, in good faith, add a special notation referencing this particular presidential mantra. On this most important of questions, it turns out that while a lot of people lied and misled, Trump was telling the truth all along.