28 March 2019
28 March 2019

It’s over.

Or maybe it’s not.

After 22 months of investigating possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian agents determined to influence the 2016 US presidential election, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has submitted his findings.

He found no conspiracy to help Donald Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. But he refused to say if Trump committed another crime by trying to obstruct the Justice Department’s inquiry.

There is enough there, it seems, for the President and his supporters to declare victory… and for the opposition to scream “not so fast!”

The problem is, that while the Mueller team gave a decisive answer to one big question, it apparently left some others unresolved.

I say “apparently” because all that has been released so far is a four-page summary of the findings put together by Attorney General Bob Barr (a Trump appointee) and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein (also an administration pick.)

In that summary — contained in a letter to Congress — Barr declares Tump committed no crime, even though on the matter of obstruction of justice, Robert Mueller stopped short of exonerating the president.

In essence, Barr had the last word and not Mueller. And while he is generally well-liked and respected in Washington, the attorney general’s decision to make the final determination drew a quick rebuke from Democratic Party leaders in Congress who called for the immediate release of the full report and underlying documentation.

In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer wrote:   

“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”

For his part, President Trump declared the findings of the investigation to be a “complete exoneration.” He also called the special council’s inquiry “an illegal takedown that failed.”

And so the debate goes on with the president and his supporters energized by the Barr letter to Congress… and those who are skeptical, to say the least, of Donald Trump’s fitnesses for office on the defensive and wondering out loud if the attorney general and his deputy had rushed to judgement.

What is a bit odd is that the president, instead of celebrating, is spewing anger — anger at those who brought about this investigation in the first place and dared to raise questions about his actions, along with those of his family members and associates. He has gone so far as to accuse them of “treasonous” activities and argue that they are the ones who really warrant investigation.

All this is likely to energize his political base, especially those who believe his chants of “fake news.” According to the president, there are many journalists who dealt in nothing but lies since the first allegations of possible collusion surfaced.

This from a man with a tendency to stretch the truth.

Some would call it ironic — but hours after the Barr summary hit Capitol Hill, the Trump reelection campaign sent a letter to TV networks pressuring them not to book six current or former government officials that have made “outlandish, false claims, without evidence” on the air.

The six include the head of the Democratic Party… a former CIA director… and the chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

None seem intimidated… nor do the networks.

CNN Chief Jeff Zucker offered perhaps the best defense of the media in response to a question from the New York Times:

“We are journalists, and our role is to report the facts as we know them, which is exactly what we did. A sitting president’s own Justice Department investigated his campaign for collusion with a hostile nation. That’s not enormous because the media says so. That is enormous because it is unprecedented.”

That seems to be the one thing everyone agrees on. We have never seen anything quite like the Mueller investigation before — a probe into allegations of a political conspiracy with a foreign power. Then again, the United States has never had a president like Donald Trump before — a man with a history of shady dealings going back decades.

It may well be that he saw his entire run for the White House as a marketing ploy for his business… and any contacts with Russia were designed to pave the way for a big real estate deal in Moscow. And it could be that what smacked of collusion to some observers was merely a display of incompetence by a first time candidate and his immediate circle.

Did the Trump campaign do anything illegal?    Based on what we know so far about the Mueller report, it does not seem so. But could their ethics be called into question?  And is the ethical behavior of the president a fitting subject for investigation? When do the law and ethics intersect?

Nearly two years after Robert Mueller began his investigation, and days after it ended, there are still so many weighty issues to be sorted out.

Congressional committees will have their say and there are a number of federal and state prosecutors pursuing leads based on evidence obtained by the Mueller investigation.

It isn’t going away.

It is the price we must pay, I suppose, for having an unconventional president whose biggest claim to fame before entering politics was putting his name on a bunch of upscale buildings and resorts as well as starring in a TV reality show.

And you have to wonder… at a time when we have so many big issues facing this country, how long can we let our divisions over Donald Trump drain our national energy?

What about the farmers in the midwest, for example?

They are facing catastrophic floods at a time when President Trump’s get tough stand on trade is putting foreign markets for their crops in jeopardy.

What about them?

Yes, we need to get to the bottom of all these Trump issues but we cannot let it be our national obsession.

I say this as a journalist… and as an American.

Robert Mueller has closed his investigation and moved on. We need to digest his findings and follow where they lead, being vigilant about exposing wrongdoing as we hold our leaders to a higher standard.

But we can’t forget about the farmers in Nebraska… the auto workers in Ohio… or the victims of the hurricanes that flattened towns in Florida and Puerto Rico.

America needs to do two things at once. We need to get to the bottom of all this Trump madness. But we also need to take care of the nation’s business… we need to move on.


Paula Wolfson

Paula Wolfson is a veteran Washington correspondent who has covered three presidents and six presidential campaigns. She was the White House bureau chief for the Voice of America before switching to commercial radio, where she reported on science and health care policy, Recently she returned to her first love and is writing once again on American politics and foreign policy for

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