Dem Senator to Mueller: Don't release findings around the midterms

Oh, why not? Wouldn’t that be hilariously ironic, no matter how Robert Mueller’s report turns out for Republicans and Democrats? Presumably, the special counsel has learned that lesson from his good friend James Comey, but beleaguered incumbent Democrat Robert Casey Jr wants to make sure of it:

Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) on Sunday warned special counsel Robert Mueller against issuing a report on his findings in the ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election near the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

Speaking to radio host John Catsimatidis on New York radio station AM 970, Casey said he couldn’t make any assumptions about where the Mueller investigation is going in light of indictments issued on Friday. But he added that he would recommend Mueller not release a report on his findings near the midterms, when it would distract from elections or cause people to question the election’s integrity.

“I don’t think we’ll know anywhere near the full story until [Mueller] issues his report,” Casey said. “But once you get into the summer, and you get close to the election, I think it’s a mistake for him to release it late. I think you should wait until after [the election]” Casey said.

Why would Casey worry about it? Casey has to run for re-election in Pennsylvania, a prospect that probably seemed safe enough … until Donald Trump flipped the Keystone State in 2016. Much of that has to do with Hillary Clinton’s lack of talent for campaigning and the baggage she carried into the election, but it also speaks to the distancing of the Democratic Party from the working-class voters outside the urban-coastal cores.

How bad is this problem? In his analysis of the upcoming special election in western PA to replace Tim Murphy, who resigned in disgrace, Josh Kraushaar offers a telling anecdote from the 2016 election. Democrats have gone all-in with environmental activists, even while Bill Clinton tried to fix the problem:

“Democrats have to realize that Republicans can run conservative candidates everywhere and get to 218 House seats. Democrats can’t run liberals everywhere and get to a majority,” said Pennsylvania Democratic strategist Mike Mikus, a veteran of campaigns in this region.

Mikus, who advised the campaign of 2016 Pennsylvania Senate nominee Katie McGinty, argued that the Democrats’ hard-line approach to environmental issues was a major factor in the party’s steady decline in western Pennsylvania. He recalled that Bill Clinton, before a campaign stop here, wanted to talk about a new fracking technology that would create more middle-class jobs and bring added wealth to the area. Hillary Clinton’s advisers in Brooklyn vetoed the idea. “The energy issue hurts Democrats out here more than guns and abortion combined. The environmental movement has outsized influence on Democratic policy, but its political impact is overstated. It’s all about the donors,” Mikus said. …

The Democratic Party’s recent emphasis on cultural issues and the Trumpian sideshow at the expense of bread-and-butter economic issues is what’s giving Republicans optimism that blue-collar seats like these will remain under GOP control. A memo released this week by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA warned the party that “the extent of Democratic gains will be blunted if Democrats do not re-engage more aggressively in speaking to the economic and health care priorities of voters.”

Lamb’s trying to offer happy talk on fracking, and Casey will probably do the same later in the year, but voters will not forget the opposition to fracking and energy development from Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Democratic leadership over the past couple of decades.

With that in mind, why wouldn’t Casey want a Mueller report before this election? After all, Democrats have been pushing a Trump-referendum strategy for the 2018 midterms, and Mueller has been the linchpin of that strategy. It might be that Casey just wants fair play for both sides, but it’s more likely that Democrats are worried now that their collusion hysteria is about to backfire on them. The indictments against Russian operatives came with explicit statements that any contacts with legitimate campaigns were inadvertent and unwitting. Rod Rosenstein went out of his way to emphasize that point in an extraordinary presser afterward, which seemed intended to reshape expectations for a much more modest conclusion than the media had earlier assumed from the Mueller probe:

Byron York sums up what he calls the “non-alarmist reading” of Friday’s action:

Another is that, combining the 37-page indictment with testimony from social media executives before congressional intelligence committees — and there isn’t much in the indictment that the intel committees didn’t already know — the Russian operation, while warranting serious U.S. punishment, emerges as a small, poorly funded operation with a level of effectiveness that is impossible to measure but could be near zero. …

The indictment says Russians used the fake Facebook accounts they created to team with unwitting Americans to stage a few real-world, pro-Trump events in Florida, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. A few days after the election, the Russians staged two rallies in New York — one to support the president-elect and another headlined “Trump is NOT my President.” It was the original Russian goal of disruption applied to new — and very unexpected — circumstances.

All Americans should be grateful that the Mueller team has gone after the Russian interference project. Russia needs to be prevented from doing it again, and also not allowed to get better at it.

But that doesn’t mean the Russian interference outlined in the new indictment amounted to a lot. It didn’t.

As long as Mueller’s probe continues, Democrats can still argue that Mueller might turn up something that will justify an impeachment and the need for Democratic majorities for that possibility. At the moment, though, the signals seem to indicate that Mueller is more focused on Paul Manafort for corruption and lower-level figures for process crimes than in the original theory of collusion. If Mueller’s report reaches that conclusion before the midterms, it’s going to leave egg on a lot of faces — especially on red-state Democratic incumbents who face a tough enough time as it is.