Robert Mueller III majored in government at Princeton, graduating in 1966. He volunteered for the Marines and ended up a hero in the Vietnam War, earning a Bronze Star. After his stint in the military, he went to law school at the University of Virginia and received a law degree. For the next nearly 50 years, he worked both in private practice and law enforcement, twelve years as director of the FBI.
In contrast, Donald Trump graduated from the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania in 1968. He avoided the Vietnam war reportedly by getting a podiatrist to dishonestly state that he had bone spurs in his heels. (Stephen Kotkin. “American Hustle: What Mueller Found—and Didn’t Find About Trump and Russia”: July/August 2019 “Foreign Affairs”).
Trump entered his father’s successful real estate business in New York City and its environs, buying and building skyscrapers, and running casinos in Atlantic City. He also tried unsuccessfully to set up a professional football league, run an airline, and create a get-rich quick university. His greatest success came from creating a reality TV show, which was a fantasy version of his own life.
These two personalities collided in May 2017 when the Department of Justice appointed Mueller as special counsel to investigate: “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, along with any matters that arose or may arise from the investigation.”
During the subsequent two years, Mueller and his team interviewed approximately 500 witnesses, issued 2,800 subpoenas and carried out 500 search-and -seizure warrants. His team indicted 34 individuals and three Russian businesses, securing guilty pleas or convictions from Trump’s 2016 campaign manager and his national security advisor.
The investigation ended in March 2019 with a 448-page report in two volumes. The first volume investigated whether the Trump campaign had been involved in a conspiracy with the Russian government. Mueller and his team found they had not, although they had benefited from Russia meddling in the election.
The problem with the Trump administration is that, according to Kotkin, “Trump world may be too disorganized to manipulate.” Son-in-law Jared Kushner made a similar comment back in 2017 when he privately related to congressional interns: “They thought we colluded [with the Russians], but we couldn’t even collude with our local offices.” As Kotkin summarizes, “It’s a pitiful yet accurate exculpation: not guilty by reason of ineptitude.”
The second volume dealt with the obstruction of justice by President Trump into the Mueller Team investigation. Mueller repeated in his House testimony last week that the President had indeed obstructed justice, but that Mueller, under DOJ policy, could not indict him while he was still president, although he could be indicted after he ended his term.
Trump’s “carnival-barker, confidence-man persona is anything but alien to the United States.” It’s as American as apple pie. President Trump’s real gifts are to command attention and dominate the news cycle. In his history of his life in business, he would get into trouble, and sue (3,500 times). If he lost, he would declare corporate bankruptcy, doing so six times from 1991-2009. He has never had to declare personal bankruptcy, though. His presidency could be considered his seventh bankruptcy, according to Kotkin, but like the previous bankruptcies, it is not a personal one. It is national.
Both Trump’s supporters and opponents need to face reality: His supporters need to admit the Mueller portrait is damning, which they won’t, and his opponents need to admit that their portrayal of him “as a singular threat to the republic lacks context and perspective.” But they won’t. As Trump himself tweeted, “They [his opponents] made up a phony collusion with the Russians story, found zero proof, so now they go for obstruction of justice on the phony story. Nice.”
Both Trump and liberal media elites have followed the same game plan: “Truthful hyperbole” (Trump’s phrase). Both sides have used exaggeration (fake news) to stir up their own bases. The difficulty we Americans have is the challenge of sifting through all the propaganda on both sides to get to the truth. Americans need to develop the skill of critical thinking and research. The problem with the Mueller report is that, instead of giving the nation a definitive answer, it has only served to intensify political deadlock.