Mueller Time

Originally published in the Silent Noise on March 31, 2019.

The hour before the conclusions of the long-awaited Mueller report were delivered by the attorney general could have been likened to the moments before a roller coaster drops from hundreds of feet in the air. For added accuracy, place a blindfold over the eyes of everyone on the ride: everyone knows what they think is going to happen, but nobody knows exactly how the events will play out. Regardless of what happens, whatever the report entails, it is inevitable that in this age of political division it will be a wild ride forward. Some with especially pessimistic foresight see that once this roller coaster reaches its peak, once all of this suspense and anger pent up over two years of investigation which shook Washington to its core has been brought to its climax, it only has one way it can go.

Down. Release. Recoil.

The recently-appointed attorney general William Barr, after leafing through the more than three hundred pages of Robert Mueller’s report detailing the findings of his investigation into President Trump’s alleged ties with the Russian government, delivered its key points in a four-page memo to Congress. It sought to answer the biggest question of the past two years: Did Donald Trump collude with Russia and obstruct justice?

His answer: “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.”

Robert Mueller’s probe into suspected dealings between the campaign of then-candidate Donald Trump and Russia in 2016 lasted almost a full two years. Indictment after indictment, subpoena after subpoena, it captivated a country yearning to know whether the President of the United States was truly a Russian asset as accusers said. It became a cultural and political sensation like the O.J. Simpson trial on steroids. Late night comedians went to town on it. T-shirts emerged which boldly declared “It’s Mueller Time!”. All the while, Mueller himself remained and elusive and mysterious figure, determined to serve justice where it was needed. The investigation was compared to Watergate in the 1970s. Several powerful figures surrounding Trump fell victim to the probe, including General Michael Flynn, advisor Roger Stone, and lawyer Michael Cohen, all of them accused of crimes which were suspected to be merely pieces of the puzzle in the president’s obstruction of justice. Yet, the Mueller report echoed what had become a mantra for Trump and his supporters throughout the ordeal: No collusion.

Most Democrats and opponents of the president were struck with disbelief. It seemed unimaginable that after such an enormous buildup, after so many indictments and guilty pleas, there could be such an anticlimactic conclusion as “I’ve got nothing” from Mr. Mueller. Many felt cheated, and recognized that the sensationalized dream of Donald Trump’s impeachment was now not much more than a fantasy. On the Republican side, the report was a cause for celebration. A cloud had been lifted from the heads of Trump’s allies. They were able to utter quite possibly the most satisfying phrase in American politics: “I told you so.” Understandably, the most relieved was the President himself, who took to Twitter after an unsettlingly lengthy period of radio silence in the day before and declared the report a “total exoneration.”

Some were quick to correct the President. Barr’s summary explicitly stated that the report “does not conclude that the president committed a crime, [but] does not exonerate him.” This indicates that even after these past two years, the Mueller investigation did not come to a definitive conclusion on the matter; not enough evidence to charge Trump with a crime, but not enough to vindicate him and clear him of guilt. Barr’s acknowledgement of this point led to outcry from Democrats and Republicans alike to release the full document to the public rather than what could have been a twisted book report. The attorney general responded, saying that it would be redacted and released by mid-April.

By now, the American people are accustomed to waiting. They’ve waited for two years, and their reward for waiting was more waiting. Now we have to wait for an answer, a satisfying conclusion, an end to our hope and our dread. It’s improbable that the full report will give us anything which differs from the Barr summary, but it’s certainly possible that it could contain a surprise. It’s possible that Trump is guilty and it’s possible that he’s innocent. It’s possible that collusion was a hoax, a delusion; or the biggest cover-up in American history. It’s also possible that a unicorn could trot into the oval office and knock over a few chairs, which many would prefer over the current occupant. Anything’s possible in this era of politics, and the only cure to this lingering suspense is time.

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