It just a matter of time now before the American Psychiatric Association or some other august group of mental health experts defines a new distinctly American illness: RSMCF, or Robert S. Mueller Chronic Fatigue, also known as the Muellerovirus. With each court filing, each witness or defense counsel leak, and each “Witch Hunt” overreaction on the @realDonaldTrump Twitter feed, the public is drawn into daily soap opera drama and speculation that, whether one is a fan of the 45th president or repulsed by him, can be a tiring and confusing exercise.
This past weekend was a classic example, not just of incremental advancement in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, with its growing list of tawdry misadventures by some in the Trump inner circle, but of breathless speculation on cable television and other media venues over whether the president might actually do time in prison. And here some Democrats claimed it was too early to talk about impeachment.
(As a side note, if you are a former federal prosecutor or ever worked for Whitewater Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and don’t currently have a gig on CNN, MSNBC, Fox or some similar outlet, what’s the deal with that? Irrational fear of pancake makeup and Fresnel lights?)
Don’t misunderstand. There is an important process going on, an investigation with serious implications and a democracy to preserve. But when court filings related to Michael D. Cohen’s sentencing mention hush money payments to two women and then note those payments were allegedly directed by then-candidate Donald Trump, it’s still a bit of a leap to be measuring the president for prison garb. That both Mr. Mueller and the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York are looking closely at those payments to Karen McDougal and Stephanie “Stormy Daniels” Clifford, with whom Mr. Trump allegedly had affairs, is noteworthy but hardly conclusive.
And, of course, this wouldn’t be the first time that some little keyhole-size view of the Mueller probe was parsed and speculated into something, as Mr. Trump might say, yuge. Media speculation isn’t a crime, of course, but it gives Mr. Trump and his supporters an opportunity to give their own hyper-extended defense. That includes the president’s Saturday tweets disparaging the “collusion illusion” and asserting that “there is nothing impeachable here.” Pretty bold words of reaction to news coverage from a White House inhabitant who yammers about how you can’t trust anything you read in the news. And that was before the president started reviewing former FBI Director James Comey’s behind-closed-doors testimony to the House Judiciary and Oversight committees, which appears to have been mostly an exercise in distracting the public by turning more attention to the — yawn — Hillary Clinton emails.
“This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!” Mr. Trump posted on Twitter Sunday.
Why must everything related to the special counsel’s investigation be treated as summer camp gossip where budding romances are speculated at breakfast, detailed at lunch and the inevitable breakup dissected by that night’s evening campfire? That’s easy. Because it serves a purpose for all involved. Cable networks get easy ratings, the president’s critics get face time attacking him, and Mr. Trump and his supporters get to deflect, deflect, deflect. And it’s not hard to cover — most of the players are all a phone call away, and, even if Mr. Mueller stays mum, reporters know plenty of insiders who love to talk. The big losers are the rest of us who find the whole miserable thing nauseating and depressing.
Here’s an idea: Why don’t we let the Mueller probe run its course and then figure out the proper remedy and reaction? We realize that high-profile public inquiries never work out this way. (Watergate was a drip-drip of information in the press long before Senate hearings or Richard Nixon’s tapes were released). But maybe for the holidays, we could all declare a moratorium on scrutinizing the Justice Department’s scrutinizers and adopt more of a wait-and-see approach. After all, this isn’t ending any time soon. With Democratic control of the House, a lot more subpoenas are headed to the White House — including into Mr. Trump’s personal finances. Whether there’s a “smoking gun” now isn’t especially definitive given the amount of sniffing for firearms that’s headed our way.
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