BOSTON (CBS) — Washington D.C. right now is the capital of wishful thinking.
The dream Trump critics had of Special Counsel Robert Mueller unearthing a smoking-gun tape or document that would nail the president conspiring with the Russians was always made of pipe. And it should come as no surprise that the ever-cautious brass at the Justice Department shied away from pursuing collusion or obstruction charges based on anything less.
And the president’s claim that Attorney General William Barr’s summary is “total exoneration” for him doesn’t pass the laugh test. Barr goes out of his way in the letter to Congress to quote Mueller saying: “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
So here’s what is likely to happen next:
- A major fuss – already underway – over the release of the full report (minus national security and legally-required redactions). Barr’s letter repeats his past assurances that he intends to release as much of it as he can. A key early decision by the White House is whether or not to try to squelch that, a move that in itself would ignite fresh suspicion just when some is being dispelled.
- Intensified media focus on the multiple continuing investigations of the Trump campaign and corporation. If anything, the hard-to-prove collusion and obstruction charges may have been a blessing for the White House to the extent that they distracted from those other probes, especially the ones potentially linked to the extensive evidence (including audiotapes) seized from former Trump legal aide Michael Cohen.
- A wave of fresh activity from the congressional committees investigating Trump world, perhaps stemming from new information provided by the Mueller report.
In the end, absent the incriminating evidence so ardently wished for by presidential skeptics, the Russia probe was always more likely to be about politics than the law. Impeachment, if it ever happens, is strictly a political process, despite its legal trappings.
And if you want to seriously contemplate the political future of this troubled presidency, you have to take in more than just the investigatory fireworks. Is the economy headed toward a recession? Is one of the world’s many hotspots ready to explode, with dire implications for U.S. policy? Will Mr. Trump continue to insist on gratuitously creating more enemies than friends by, for instance, trashing dead war heroes?
What’s that? You’d prefer to see an end to the bitter partisanship and a return to thoughtful policymaking in Washington?
That might be the most wishful thinking of all.