The investigation by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election has felt part and parcel of the two-year Trump era itself. Since the firing of FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, it has been “Mueller time” about as long as it has been MAGA time, a parallel dimension in which Trump’s opponents could nurture their hopes that a legal deus ex machina would restore the natural order of things. This seemed all but inevitable, given the meticulousness of the probe and the rectitude of its leader, a man who would also “roll up,” in the style of Mafia prosecutions, underlings willing to rat on their don. The indictments started coming, followed by the plea bargains and criminal convictions of multiple Trump associates. And with all that other suspicious activity still to look into, surely much more would emerge, and then the president himself would be forced to go.
This was never the way to view the special prosecutor’s job. No one should have expected Mueller’s investigation to magically undo the results of the 2016 election. From all indications, he conducted a thorough, fair investigation that hewed to the terms of his mandate: to uncover whatever evidence there might be that Americans had conspired with a foreign power to sway the outcome of an election. He did not find it. The “witch hunt,” it turns out, has probably been helpful to the president, even though he continues to grouse about the probe’s legitimacy. Perversely, Mueller’s main finding seemed to come as a disappointment to the president’s most vocal opponents, especially among some quarters of the media—almost as if proof that Trump and his people worked actively with a foreign power to steal the election would have been good news. What still seems possible is that, ahead of an election that almost everyone, including Trump, expected him to lose, members of his campaign were laying the groundwork to cash in after his defeat. Unseemly, yes, maybe even obscene, but not a conspiracy. It is worth noting that Mueller and his team were able to complete their work without interference from the administration, despite the president’s periodic threats to shut the investigation down. Also worth noting is that the probe exposed the true extent to which Russia interfered in the 2016 election in hopes of getting Trump elected, issuing dozens of indictments against the individuals and entities involved. It is just over a year until the next election, and the success of the Russian effort to meddle in the last one has yet to be sufficiently reckoned with.