Those who hoped the Special Counsel would find criminal acts by President Trump are disappointed this week, but for Robert Mueller and his team it can only be “mission accomplished.”
Of course, Mueller’s team would have loved to have taken down Trump, but the more achievable goal was to misdirect attention from their own actions. The probe was initiated and staffed by the same people who prior to the election sought to use the mechanisms of the law enforcement bureaucracy to deny Trump the presidency.
Sigmund Freud called it “psychological projection,” whereby the human ego defends itself by attributing one’s own negative traits to others. That is how a group of high-level bureaucrats and prosecutors convinced themselves that Donald Trump had no regard for democratic norms and that he was a traitor in the embrace of a foreign power, allowing them to answer “a higher calling” by illegally intervening in the election.
The overwhelming probability that Trump would lose the election provided an assurance that they were right about Trump because they thought most other Americans were seeing the same thing. It also provided a sense of security that they would never get caught and would be advantageous to the careers of each. Hillary’s underlings were well aware of the breaks they were being cut, especially in the form of phony plea deals that protected them from criminal liability.
We now know that the ugly truth that it was individuals within the Justice Department who shredded democratic norms and were willing to cooperate with Russian intelligence at the expense of American interests. Of course, it is possible that there was no Russian involvement at all. Maybe Glenn Simpson made up what’s in the Steele dossier. After all, he had some eager customers in Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the media. At the time, however, James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and the rest believed, or pretended to believe, that they were getting the goods straight from Russia.
When Trump won, the conspirators had no plan but soon found themselves in the center of the vacuum created when Jeff Sessions recused himself from anything Russia-related. They still controlled the Department and the FBI. Soon after he was inaugurated, Trump failed to fire Comey and said he opposed any investigation of Hillary, showing how little he understood about the campaign against him. But the stop Trumpers knew what they had done, and the laws they had broken. They suddenly had the chance to move one of their own into a pivotal position.
In May 2017, Trump interviewed Mueller for the position of FBI director. The next day, he was appointed Special Counsel. Mueller was certainly aware of his imminent appointment, a fact he apparently withheld from the President. Notably, the day after his appointment, Mueller received a retroactive waiver from Justice Department ethics officials for an apparent conflict of interest. The National Legal and Policy Center will soon be filing a lawsuit to obtain the secret DOJ memo authorizing the questionable waiver. Whether Mueller ended up FBI director or Special Counsel, there was a reason he was so available to come out of retirement.
Mueller spent almost two years investigating Trump and his associates. Did he really need that long to establish there was no “collusion” with the Russians? Was the torment of Paul Manafort and the pursuit of Roger Stone all for show? In October 2017, when Hillary’s campaign conceded that it had paid for the Steele dossier, it would have been within Mueller’s charter to expand the investigation to Clinton and her associates, but tellingly, he did not.
Since he is a creature of the Justice Department, Mueller is painfully aware of the level of misconduct and criminality by his former colleagues. He knew that if the focus were on their actions, it would be a debilitating blow to the Department. Perhaps out of a misguided concern for the institution, or simply a desire to bail out his friends, he appeared on the spot to save the day. Mueller may not be getting the same accolades from the Left, but to the anti-Trump plotters on whose behalf he was always acting, it can only be a “job well done.”
Peter Flaherty is Chairman of the National Legal and Policy Center.