From the very beginning, the special counsel investigation has been a string of anecdotes, compound adjectives (“Russia-linked”), and vanquished dreams in search of a conspiracy. The only crimes of which Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Michael Cohen, and the rest have been accused are ones that were alleged to have been committed either well before or long after the 2016 election; in many cases, indeed, they were said to have occurred during the course of the investigation itself — process crimes. None of the charges in question were about colluding with Russia. The only one that has even directly involved the presidential election was a violation of federal campaign finance law.
The findings of the special counsel, if they are ever in fact released to the public in full, are likely to be insignificant. The investigation itself, however, has been one of the most consequential events in recent American history. It has forced the Democratic Party to change its position on Russia from “The ’80s called” to clamors for a new Cold War. It has led hard-news television reporters to make comments about anodyne diplomatic proceedings that would have done the John Birch Society proud during the height of McCarthyism. It has led otherwise sensible adults to attempt to make arguments about the supposedly sacrosanct nature of the American election system that they will, I hope, find embarrassing in just a few years. It has prevented the duly elected president of the United States from doing his job, poorly or otherwise.