Political News

What if the Mueller report changes nothing?

Posted February 20, 2019 7:33 p.m. EST

— Thanks to CNN reporting, we now know that Attorney General Bill Barr is readying to receive special counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian interference in the 2016 election -- and the possibility of collusion with Donald Trump's campaign -- as soon as next week.

Which is BIG news! For the better part of the last 20 months, we've received drips and drabs of what Mueller knows but have never had a chance to see the whole picture (or anything close to it). There have been nearly 200 criminal counts against 39 people and entities, seven people have pleaded guilty and another four have been sentenced to jail.

But what we don't know is whether Trump himself or his son, Donald Trump Jr., or his son-in-law Jared Kushner, might be implicated of wrongdoing by Mueller. That question has hung over Washington -- and Trump's presidency -- like a dark cloud since Mueller was named special counsel in May 2017.

The assumption has long been that Mueller's report, whenever it came out, would function as a sort of last word on all of this. It would either exonerate or implicate Trump and his closest confidantes. It would, no matter what it said, change the course of Trump's presidency.

And yet, now that we have at least the possibility of a light at the end of this tunnel, I am more and more convinced that the clarity that so many people want from the Mueller report may simply never come.

That's not because Mueller's findings won't be clear. I mean, they might not be -- but my guess is that someone with Mueller's background, including a decade at the head of the FBI, is going to deliver a final product that deals with the questions raised by the 2016 campaign and Russia's role in it comprehensively.

I think the lack of clarity will instead arise from how the report is received. Trump has spent much of the past 18 months savaging the Russia investigation publicly even while privately working hard to end or curtail it, as this amazing New York Times piece documents.

Recent polling conducted by CNN suggests that Trump's negative campaign against Mueller has had some effect: 44% approved of how Mueller had handled the investigation while 41% disapproved in the February poll. That's down from a 50% approve/28% disapprove number for Mueller back in September 2018.

What numbers like those make me think is that no matter what is in the Mueller report -- literally, NO MATTER WHAT -- it won't change the minds of most people following the story. For people who already hate Trump, they will see the Mueller report as confirmation that the President was compromised by the Russians. For Trump's backers, they will dismiss the whole thing -- aping their idol -- as a "witch hunt" and a "hoax." They likely won't even engage with what's in Mueller's report, and Trump will egg them on to ignore it -- so much "fake news" and all that.

Which will leave us, roughly, right where we are now. Which is bitterly divided without the ability to even agree on a set of facts and truths.

The Point: The Mueller report has been cast as the panacea for what ails the country. It almost certainly won't be.