RealClearPolitics presents us with two very different perspectives on the current state of the Mueller investigation. According to Eugene Robinson, writing for the Washington Post, Mueller has struck gold; further, Trump’s continued efforts to fight and deligitimize that probe are a sign that something is seriously wrong. Scott McKay of the American Spectator, on the other hand, believes that the only thing seriously wrong is the persistence of the probe, and he urges Trump to take action to rein it in.

A pattern of suspicious activity

Robinson lays out the facts of the case as follows. It is clear that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, and his recent tweet shows that he obstructed justice. The ball is now firmly in Congress’ court: whether the behavior was illegal or not, will our lawmakers deem it acceptable? Even barring the possibility that Mueller has another ace up his sleeve or that there are huge revelations from Michael Flynn pending, Congress should take a stand on a President who, as a candidate, encouraged foreign meddling in U.S.

elections, both when publicly appealing to Russia to find his opponent’s missing e-mails and when accepting a meeting with Russian agents, if only as represented by his son and campaign chairman.

We know, after all, the decisive role that Russian cyberwarriors played in spreading “fake news,” and how their click-bait influenced election results. As if that weren’t enough, there’s Trump’s tweet in which, essentially admitting to obstruction of justice, he alludes to having known of Michael Flynn’s perjury all along.

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Never mind that his lawyer took the fall for Trump – and never mind the claim that, as Chief Executive, Trump cannot obstruct justice because he essentially is justice. The indirect and direct collusion with Russia, the shady dealings of key campaign officials, all show a gravely problematic pattern of behavior – and Trump’s response to the details of this pattern as it emerges speaks volumes about what has not yet seen the light of day.

An investigation out of control

On the contrary, says Scott McKay, the big scandal here is the naked partisanship of the Mueller probe. Exhibit A is Peter Strzok, removed from the probe after it was revealed that he sent anti-Trump texts to a woman with whom he was having an affair (a detail which only further impugns his character). We now know that this same Peter Szrok was the man responsible for changing the language of Comey’s rebuke of Clinton from that of “gross negligence” to “extreme carelessness,” so that her decision to set up a private server would not be portrayed as a matter of deliberately violating the law or even of acting in willful ignoranced but would rather come across as a case in which a government official should have known better, though, alas, mistakes were made.

In addition to whitewashing Clinton, McKay suspects that it was Strzok who was responsible for taking the “pee-pee” dossier to the FISA court, thereby obtaining the very warrants against Trump’s transition team which Mueller has used to catch Flynn in a lie. And it isn’t just Strzok whose bona fides are suspect: other major players in the probe, such as Andrew Weissmann, are conspicuous for wrongfully conducted prosecutions, not to mention the raid against Paul Manafort.

These are partisans “out for blood,” not impartial investigators following the truth wherever it may lead.

Trump would be best advised to pardon Michael Flynn for lying, as so far that is the only real crime he is known to have committed, and fire the unscrupulous Strzok and Weissmann. The probe need not be canceled altogether, but surely Trump could give it a time-limit – American democracy cannot afford to labor under endless partisan “suspicions.” Finally, Trump needs to do a review of the FBI and “clean house.” The “Deep State” is doing everything it can to undermine Trump, whose return bluster, though exposing this campaign for what it is, is not enough to crush it.

Resistance and the rule of law

The Russian scandal has famously been described as a “nothing-burger,” and in this case, I cannot help but agree. The underlying issue that we need to keep sight of, as we track the twists and turns of this case, is whether there was any underlying wrong-doing by the Trump campaign, and what constitute the limits of Trump’s executive authority. We should keep in mind, as we examine this question, that it turns as much and much more on what the law actually states as on what the law should state; it would be irresponsible, unfortunate as that may be, to make a judgment, as Robinson invites us to, on the basis of what ought to have been done. The question Is only what was allowed.

And that raises the question at issue: What makes it illegal, not to mention immoral, for a president to work with a foreign government to be elected? How exactly does this compromise the election itself? If it were a matter of election fraud, things would be relatively clear -- it would undermine Trump’s legitimacy just as surely as Trump would like it to undermine the legitimacy of his opponents – in the legal and not simply the ideological sense of that word. But what is wrong with the dispersal of “fake news”? Even if those who voted for Trump were misinformed, surely it was their duty to properly inform themselves and not the duty of the Trump campaign. So far as that goes, as long as the American public was the legitimate source of the election outcome in 2016, it does not matter whether it exercised its duties conscientiously and free of external influence or not. If we were misled, that is our responsibility and not that of those who misled us or encouraged us to be so. In fact there is only one thing that would call into question the Trump campaign’s actions, and that is if it became clear that the Trump campaign encouraged or was personally involved in Russian hacking.

Trump’s appeal to Russia during the campaign, while extremely distasteful, is not enough to show that this is so: one would need to find clear evidence that the campaign directly suggested or supported Russian hacks on the Democratic party and of Clinton’s e-mail server. Such actions in themselves would be crimes, to participate in which would be illegal complicity. So far as Russian help – even Russian campaign money – goes, and it may have gone very far indeed, a better case has to be made as to why these are illegal.

The aspersions of Robinson are, on the other hand, unimpressive. It does not matter so much whether the prosecution is biased against the defendant, so long as the prosecution turns up solid evidence. We demand impartiality only of judges, after all, and even in the case of judges, reasoning is required in the conviction, which then may be appealed. Mueller and his cohort may be as biased against Trump as you like, but what matters is what they find, not what they think. If a man like Peter Strzok is dismissed, this is more for the sake of optics than because expressing dislike of Trump is anything objectionable in itself. And Mueller can lay all the traps he likes, but that does not absolve Trump and his campaign from the blame of stumbling into them.

One sometimes gets the impression, after reading these broadsides against Trump’s opponents, that any action in opposition to Trump is wrong or at least unsportsmanlike. But our democracy, which these prosecutions are supposed to threaten, does not award all spoils to the victor, and we have been deliberately provided with legal means of working against those who hold power over us, for that is our power. Partisanship checks partisanship; it is not only to be expected but actually admirable that Trump does not have free reign to do what he pleases – even with Congress behind him. Trump’s defenders may continue to argue the cause as much as they would like, and it is clear they even have good arguments to make – but let us not continue to cast aspersion on the process.

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