Mueller is building a report, not a case

The lack of a crime means the “accomplices” are not really accomplices. To take a couple of stark examples, collusion pours off every page of the narrative statements Mueller submitted to the courts in the cases of Papadopoulos and Cohen. They consult with Russian operatives, plan meetings for themselves and Trump with Russian officials, and — in Papadopoulos’s case — discuss the possibility of obtaining campaign dirt against Hillary Clinton from Russians. Yet, though these activities are the laser focus of his investigation, Mueller did not charge them as crimes because they are not crimes. Papadopoulos, Cohen, and the rest got jammed up, not for what they did, but for lying about what they did.

That brings us to the “where there’s smoke, there must be fire” talking-point Mueller fans have been trying out: If all these people are lying to cover something up, that something must involve some egregious criminality. That’s ridiculous. We know from our own daily lives that crimes account for only a very small percentage of the things people lie about. Indeed, throughout the 1990s, Democrats insisted that prosecutors should leave Bill Clinton alone because everybody lies about sex. People lie about things that they are embarrassed or ashamed about.

Politics is a seamy business. Pols want to think of themselves as public servants, but they spend lots of time with their hands out, either pleading for money or collecting information that might compromise an opponent. Successful politics requires horse-trading and compromise, so pols are forever explaining how they could actually be against something they voted for. A lot of this is embarrassing stuff. Consequently, when people in and around politics get caught practicing politics, they often lie about what they’ve done.