BY JOE CONASON
Everyone clamoring for Robert Mueller to finish his investigation of the Trump campaign’s connections with the Kremlin should do us all a favor and relax. The special counsel isn’t done probing that complex matter – or the attempt to conceal the facts – and he will need more time.
Nobody knows when the investigation and any further criminal trials will be completed. The desire for speed is understandable on both sides of the political divide. Many Republicans believe that curtailing the probe will save the president. Many Democrats believe that Mueller already has uncovered enough to ruin Trump – and that the special counsel’s final report will signal the end of his presidency.
Both wishful assumptions are probably wrong. Only Mueller, his staff and the judges handling the special counsel cases have any idea how much he knows and what he is preparing to reveal, but the totality promises to be far worse than the edges that we have seen so far. Bad as that totality surely is, however, the prospects of a pusillanimous Senate impeaching Trump or forcing him to resign seem very dim.
And Mueller, a public servant of untouchable integrity, isn’t pursuing any political schedule. But he is running the course of justice with all due alacrity, having racked up indictments and pleas of key figures in record time. Since he took over the Russia probe from the fired FBI director James Comey in May 2017, he has been moving far more swiftly and surely than his predecessors.
Only in the manic atmosphere created by Trump does Mueller seem “slow.”
If you don’t believe it, ask Joseph diGenova, a Republican attorney and former prosecutor. Don’t ask him about Mueller, the subject of diGenova’s angry fulminations on right-wing outlets. No, ask about Joe’s own service as independent counsel, back in the early ’90s, when he was appointed to investigate the relatively straightforward case of the Bush campaign’s illegal intrusion into Bill Clinton’s passport files. There were only a few suspects, all predictably cleared by diGenova. Despite prosecuting nobody, he took three years to complete the job [and billed the government more than $2 million].
Or consider Donald Smaltz, the GOP attorney named to investigate Clinton’s Agriculture Secretary Mike Espy [who, last month, came surprisingly close to winning a U.S. Senate seat in Mississippi]. Espy had accepted football tickets and other gratuities from friends in the industries he regulated. At the end of a four-year probe that cost $17 million, Espy won acquittal on all charges.
Or the late David Barrett, who investigated Henry Cisneros, Clinton’s housing and urban development secretary, on charges that he had lied during an FBI background check about money he paid to a mistress. Barrett spent $21 million and 11 years – that’s right, 11 years – to win a misdemeanor plea after failing to convict Cisneros on a single count.
And let’s never forget Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel who handled the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations [along with side excursions into such forgotten trivia as “Filegate” and “Travelgate”]. Starr took over the Whitewater case, which involved a failed land deal that lost $45,000 for Bill and Hillary Clinton, during the summer of 1994. The final report in that case was filed in the winter of 2002, after nearly eight years.
Starr was appointed in the first place because powerful Republicans thought the first Whitewater independent counsel, an experienced prosecutor with a GOP pedigree named Robert Fiske, was moving too quickly – and seemed likely to find no wrongdoing by the Clintons, the same conclusion that Starr and his successors only reluctantly conceded several years [and $50 million] later.
Does anybody recall Republicans whining about the length of time and waste of money back then? I don’t. It is ludicrous to listen to them whining about the special counsel investigation dragging now.
Since the special counsel filed his sentencing memo on Michael “Lock Her Up” Flynn this week, we know that the former national security adviser has been singing like a proverbial canary. We know that his cooperation has opened many avenues for the Russia probe and possibly other criminal cases. And we know that a full and complete investigation, wherever it may lead, is the paramount national interest.
So be patient. It’s the patriotic attitude.
– Joe Conason’s columns appear regularly in The Oklahoma Observer