A new year offers the best chance for optimism, but perhaps the Wall Street Journal might be overdoing it here. We may be only a few weeks away from the end of Robert Mueller’s investigation, but Holman Jenkins advises everyone to scale down their expectations for any blockbusters in the special counsel’s final report. There won’t be much fire to go with all the media-created smoke, Jenkins predicts, but there would be more to report if Mueller focused on the real problem of the 2016 election — a counterintelligence establishment that tried to interfere with the election:
Maybe the story here is simply one of unintended consequences. Maybe it all comes down to an overly bumptious FBI chief who couldn’t let pass an opportunity to be really, really important. But I don’t think so. Before there was the Steele dossier or the warrant to eavesdrop on Carter Page, there was the Hillary email investigation, which we now know launched a series of intelligence-agency interventions in U.S. domestic politics in which ostensible concerns about Russian intelligence activities were opportunistically entwined with anti-Trump motives.
Especially if you’re unhappy about Mr. Trump, this untold story shrieks for more attention. Unfortunately, much of the alleged reporting consists of waiting around for anti-Trump tidbits to be dropped in the press’s lap. Mr. Mueller himself has taken a tack seemingly designed to make sure that, even after the desired collusion is not found, the FBI’s pre-election activities seem justified.
Mr. Mueller might well issue a report in 2019 that concocts a confection of guilt by innuendo based on the Russia-related dealings and statements of Mr. Trump and the people around him. Alternatively, he could clear the air: Mr. Trump’s election was the doing of the American voter and nobody else.
But it’s already pretty obvious that he’s not going to tell us anything that will greatly shift our understanding of the 2016 race. Whereas, in the still-classified appendix of the Justice Department inspector general’s report on Mr. Comey’s actions are the beginnings of an untold and important story: how U.S. intelligence agencies, using Russia as an excuse, fiddled ineptly and improperly in our election and quite conceivably undermined the Hillary victory they were so obviously trying to secure.
Jenkins has one key figure in his corner in predicting a nothingburger. Rudy Giuliani spent the last couple of days in 2018 telling Mueller to “put up or shut up”:
I challenge Mueller to put up or shut up. You have no evidence of the President being involved in a conspiracy with anyone including Russia to hack. And you also have no evidence of collusion. It’s been 2 years so submit a report to DOJ and we will answer it.
— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) December 30, 2018
I am looking forward to 2019 so we can end the Mueller Witch Hunt before he starts his unpaid traffic ticket investigation. Happy 2019 to all.
— Rudy W. Giuliani (@RudyGiuliani) January 1, 2019
It’s worth pointing out that Giuliani does a lot more talking about this in public than Mueller. In fact, Mueller’s pretty much “shut up” since being appointed special counsel, and at least for now has kept his team leak-free. It almost sounds as though Giuliani’s goading Mueller into making his report public — although that won’t be Mueller’s call. That decision will get made by either Rod Rosenstein or William Barr, depending on the timing of Mueller’s submission.
Jenkin’s analysis (and Giuliani’s tweets) sound a bit like wishcasting, or perhaps that’s a result of the WSJ’s chosen headline for the piece: “Mueller’s Report Will Be a Bore.” There’s not much to support the “bore” prediction from Jenkins, but he does make a good argument that the Mueller probe might be ignoring a bigger issue. If one can argue that the Russian threat was a serious intrusion into the presidential campaigns, one can also argue that the response to it constituted another bad-faith intrusion, especially since the Obama administration had largely ignored the first until it was far too late to do anything about it … not that they were inclined to act anyway, at least not until Hillary Clinton seemed to be vulnerable.
However, one can make an argument that such a probe doesn’t necessarily require a special counsel at all. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for an inspector general to investigate these agencies from the inside? They would have greater access to classified material, have more independence from agency leadership, and operate under a more constitutionally appropriate aegis than special counsels. Even when Mueller concludes his investigation — assuming he ever does — inspectors general can still conduct their own probes into those decisions. They certainly have some grounds, if not probable cause, for a closer look.