I just finished reading the Mueller Report. At least, I read the parts that weren’t blacked out due to ongoing investigations. I was at the local library, looking for something to read, and, well, there it was. I found it interesting both for what it proved and for what it didn’t prove. While it showed in great detail how much effort, venality, and malfeasance Trump invested in covering up his actions, it also shows how challenging it would be to prove his corruption rises to the level of criminal acts based on the evidence that could be allowed in a court of law. On the other hand, it does show explicitly that Russians (likely with Putin’s knowledge and direction) ran a massive disinformation campaign in U.S. social media outlets designed to favor candidate Trump in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It also shows Trump’s obsession with minimizing the public’s knowledge of this election interference and discrediting the messaging of it (declaring any news about the Russian fake news campaign, ‘fake news’), and an unwavering pattern of Trump currying favor with anyone whom he thought he could convince to lie to protect him and publicly excoriating anyone who dared to tell the truth about his activities. Invariably, this behavior even ran counter to advice from his closest advisors.
I think the thing I find most interesting is that the Mueller Report comes in two parts. The first part proves the Russian interference in the U.S. election and Trump’s efforts to cover it up. Ironically, Trump spends substantial effort trying to get the FBI to publicly claim that he is not personally under investigation. The ironic part is that he wasn’t. Not until he tried so hard to circumvent the investigation. Then, because of his interference, he was. That’s part two of the Mueller Report.
Ultimately, the investigation finds the evidence of criminal conduct inconclusive:
Because we determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment, we did not draw ultimate conclusions about the President’s conduct. The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment. At the same time , if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.
While thorough and exhaustive (and, a bit exhausting for those who find legal matters tedious), the Mueller report seems to be continually considering the realpolitik of whether Trump’s corrupt actions might be prosecutable. Given the predictable out come of the recent impeachment trial involving the Republican-controlled Senate, this concern seems quite realistic.
So, where does this leave us? The president has now dodged two opportunities for the legal system to curb his corruption. His State of the Union Speech, also predictably, continued his platform of taking credit for economic trends started in the previous administration while blaming the previous administration for causing an economic downturn instead of an economic upturn–a claim, like most of his claims–easily disproved.
And, this is where things get scarier. Not only does Trump run his administration like a mob boss and tell wild stories, he has a growing and devoted base that eats it all up. The fringe seems to be growing. We now have the ‘QAnon’ followers (AP, Business Insider, NYT (NYT), Wikipedia), who see the entire governmental structure as evil (with the Democrats playing the role of pedophilic Satan worshipers) and only Donald Trump able to stop them. That should play well with a narcissist like Trump, who seems to have this view of himself already. It should also play well with the Russians in the next U.S. election. They now have both their audience and their message ready to go. And, this time, they know they can get away with it.