Thoughts on Russiagate, Mueller, and Trump’s Prospects for Reelection

I find myself in a peculiar position with regard to the Mueller report (assuming—big assumption, I know—that we have a good enough sense at this point of what’s in it).

On the one hand, I was part of the Russiagate skeptic circle. I didn’t doubt that Russia had attempted to influence the election, but I didn’t think that attempt had much if any consequence; those who did, I thought, were grasping at straws. Nor did I think there was a strong case for the claim that Trump actively colluded with that effort and had thus put himself and the United States in hock to Putin. The evidence of all the active anti-Russian measures on the part of the US since Trump was elected was simply too great to lend those arguments too much credence. I also never believed, whatever the outcome of the report, that it would be the downfall of Trump or lead to his impeachment. I always took Nancy Pelosi at her word when she said, long before the midterms, that there would be no impeachment.

And like the other Russiagate skeptics, I found the constant breathless commentary, where each revelation was going to lead to the final end, where Trump was called a Russian asset (Lindsey Graham, too) grating in the extreme. And since I thought the attacks on the skeptics were nasty and often unfair, I can certainly understand why they’re now crowing; had I been as out in front or outspoken as they, I would be crowing, too.

But the bottom line is that I don’t feel disappointed or surprised by the outcome of the report—again, assuming (big assumption) we have a decent enough sense at this point of what is in the report—because I had fairly low expectations of it going in. If anything I feel relief that it’s over.

I always insisted that the investigation should proceed (and thought the fear that it was going to be shut down prematurely to be vastly overblown) and that it was good that it was happening because there was clearly enough evidence of impropriety and illegality for it to go forward. I thought it was good to get to the bottom of things, and the evidence of corruption that it has turned up seems like, maybe, a useful roadmap going forward for thinking about political power and oligarchy. And as others have pointed out, it shows the double standards of our justice system, where the poor are punished and the rich and powerful get off fairly easily. But I always thought the vision of Trump humiliated by Mueller and then impeachment were, like the idea of Putin’s puppet or a stolen election, completely fanciful.

On the other hand, unlike many in the Russiagate skeptic circle, I don’t think the Mueller report really changes much of anything in terms of the political situation we’re in. I don’t think Trump is going to get some big boost from this, as a lot of lefties seem to think. The fact is, the Democrats, on the ground, have been—very wisely, I might add—focusing on the economy, voting rights, racism and anti-immigrant nativism. They have not been pushing Russia as an electoral question. This has always been a media and social media obsession; for once in their lives, most Democrats, on the ground, have made the rational political calculation.

So where does that leave us? Pretty much where we’ve always been. If you hoped Mueller and Russia would be the downfall of Trump and are now crestfallen, I’d say you really have no reason to feel upset. What will bring Trump down will be what was always going to bring down Trump: his failure to deliver enough to the party’s voters, the growing incoherence and unsettlement on the right about what its basic project is all about, and the rising organization of the left.

So it’s back to our regularly scheduled programming. Hopefully, with less distraction and fewer fantasies of happy endings.



  1. Chris Morlock March 25, 2019 at 10:48 am | #

    Whoops, guess we should just move on? What about the 2.5 years of neo-McCarthyism, total confirmation of the concept of “fake news”, and the ultimate strengthening of the Trump administration’s awful narrative that the entire media colludes against him? Now he is again the “rebel” against the system. The concept that this an episode of political miscalculation supported by real interest in some kind of foreign involvement in US elections is laughable. Gone is the massive revenue CNN and MSNBC procured for pushing this garbage.

    The issue isn’t if Trumps lame administration can weather a storm. The issue is if American “journalism” and the Democratic party can ever recover it’s credibility. Can we please finally excise the corporate Dems and allow Bernie through the door? What else does the neo-liberal cabal need to do to finally be banished to the dustbin of history?

    Corey maintained his credibility but didn’t exactly debunk the propaganda as I hoped he would. To be fair Bernie didn’t either; I guess a distant orbit is better than nothing.

    Most satisfying thing is reading Glen Greenwald’s twitter feed over the last few days………..

    • Foppe March 25, 2019 at 11:02 am | #

      Yeah, same here. The important story is how this changed the media, voting (e.g. the federal govt wanting to “protect” “critical election infrastructure”); and everything that was drowned out by the hubbub (such as: an actual, serious dissection of HRC’s campaign, the DNC, the DCCC); the fact that corporate dems under Trump are voting just as fiscally conservatively as they were under Obama..

  2. Ed Dupree March 25, 2019 at 11:03 am | #

    I like your assessment, Corey. I always thought Russiagate was pretty thin gruel–relying basically on the Crowdstrike report and the spook agencies’ “high confidence” in it. Still I’m hoping, maybe foolishly, that some smoking-gun evidence of T.’s financial crimes will emerge from the Dems’ investigations, and that it’ll hurt him in the 2020 elections. (This assumes he has a good many non-cultist voters who can be pried away.) And if he loses, then…indictment! The joy of his perp walk! (I can dream, can’t I?)

    • sdbruns March 25, 2019 at 11:35 am | #

      You do understand that this Mueller investigation coming ups mostly empty hamstrings and further investigations and whatever impact they might have right? The DNC just got what they wanted for two+ years, their greatest fundraiser on the front page.

      • Ed Dupree March 25, 2019 at 12:31 pm | #

        I don’t think I do understand. What’s to keep the Dems from continuing their various committee investigations, and the SDNY prosecutors from continuing theirs? Am I missing something?

        On the other hand, I do understand that the DNC can fundraise on this: “Send us money or Trump will kill us all!” (Which he might.)

  3. Roquentin March 25, 2019 at 11:37 am | #

    As someone who studied Russian in college and spent the better part of two years getting shit on by liberal conspiracy theorists believing Alex Jones level nonsense, I only feel disdain and schadenfreude. I can’t tell you how sick I am of listening to people who couldn’t point to Moscow on a map talking as though they were US/Russia Experts. I’m actively savoring that entire crowd getting what’s coming to them. Most of what the US media prints about media is pure bullshit and always has been.

    If screwing Sanders out of the nomination weren’t bad enough, them pumping the airwaves full of utter bullshit about Russia was the final straw with me and the Democratic party. I lost any and all respect I had for the leadership. I don’t know if I’ll ever really get it back. Some bells you just don’t unring.

    • Mark March 25, 2019 at 11:56 am | #

      If the past is any guide, they won’t get what’s coming to them.

      • Roquentin March 25, 2019 at 2:55 pm | #

        Touche’. Maybe I’m cherishing the schadenfreude because that’s all we’ll ever get. No one will probably lose a job over this. Not even Rachel Maddow, who should. Almost no one who lied us into the Iraq War had anything of consequence happen to them either. And people wonder why it keeps right on happening…

        • Chris Morlock March 25, 2019 at 8:18 pm | #

          What’s hilarious is actually spending time looking into Russian politics and caring about geopolitics in general pre 2016. Studying how Putin’s economy failed, how he staked his political legitimacy on a war (geopolitics 101 says this is really weak), gambling and winning while trying to appease oligarchs, international business, and good old fashioned crime……

          What a mess, and yet we were treated to a total mis-characterization of reality. Putin was somehow a genius god emperor pulling the strings of the entire world (with an economy smaller than that of Spain). He was the ultimate evil, and by default the propaganda painted him as a higher evil than Trump himself. Trump somehow wanted to be this guy, envious of his amazing power to control the world.

          This was a toxic and silly thing to place into the mind of average Americans and was the height of stupidity. The establishment loved that, at it’s core, it enabled hundreds of billions in more mindless military spending. A new cold war with a failing nuclear power, complete with an arms race. Any attempt to reform NATO or question it’s validity seems further away than ever.

  4. WLGR March 25, 2019 at 2:18 pm | #

    The reason liberals’ Russiagate obsession is so poisonous has never had anything to do with anything the Mueller report might ever conceivably have said Trump or Russia, the deeper problem has always been what the obsession says about the liberals themselves. It’s Slavoj Žižek’s (heteronormative but still relevant) Lacanian anecdote about the therapist and the pathologically jealous husband, where even if the husband’s suspicions about his wife sleeping around might actually be true, it doesn’t change the fact that his jealousy is still pathological, because the question at the heart of the pathology is why the husband needs his jealousy in order to sustain his identity. When leftists respond to liberals’ Russiagate obsession by trying to help liberals litigate the specifics of what Trump or Putin allegedly did, or by validating liberals’ concerns about the propriety of the Mueller investigation or whatever, they’re committing the same error as a therapist who advises the jealous husband to put a GPS tracker on his wife’s car and periodically go through her phone and email — any competent therapist would fully understand that regardless of anything the wife did or didn’t do, to enable the husband’s ongoing pathological fixation on his wife’s behavior, instead of resolutely shifting the focus back to his underlying pathology, wouldn’t just be beside the point but actively counterproductive.

    The gravest Russiagate-related problem (aside from the thing where willfully stoking geopolitical tensions between the US and Russia could help spark a global thermonuclear war and wipe out human civilization, but that’s, like, so passe and 20th-century, man) is liberals’ need for the issue itself to distract from their own role in creating and nurturing the conditions that gave us Trump, to deflect the blame onto a foreign conspiracy whose domestic collaborators just so happen to be liberalism’s preexisting opponents anyway, and to sustain the delusional fantasy of a perfect liberal pre-Trumpian America that could be made great again by getting rid of the nefarious foreign influence. In that sense, the problem with Russiagate-focused liberal anti-Trumpism is how uncannily it fits the ideological contours of Trumpism itself.

    • Roquentin March 26, 2019 at 10:32 am | #

      The Lacan/Zizek argument is spot on. Even if it hypothetically were true, the underlying pathology would still be there. The first question you should always ask yourself with media spectacles like this is “What do the people promoting it want to be true? What underlying needs does this story serve?” That’s the baseline around which everything else revolves.

  5. jonnybutter March 25, 2019 at 3:07 pm | #

    I agree with most of Corey’s take, except that I don’t understand the wisdom of taking impeachment ‘off the table’ in advance – not just before the midterms, but just the other day. There are plenty of things to impeach Trump for other than the Russia stuff.

    It would be silly to *run* on impeachment, and it’s probably better for the Speaker not to talk about it a lot either way. But why volunteer in advance that it’s not going to happen? First of all, how do she and the other Dem leaders know that?

    Impeachment was put there for a president like Trump – who has hinted that he might not leave office if he loses in 2020; who lies almost every time he opens his mouth; who is openly and spectacularly corrupt, and clownishly incompetent to an extent that you could almost call ‘imaginative’ – ALMOST. And what’s with the ‘he’s not worth it’ rhetoric? What does that even mean? Maybe I’m just being some kind of fool (wouldn’t be the first time), but I just don’t get it.

    BTW, I know impeachment and trial are not like a regular court of law in that it’s a political rather than a supposedly disinterested court of law thing. But if courts of law ultimately aren’t really so disinterested….what are we talking about? Does it matter that much how strong the pretense is in one versus the other? Impeachment/removal of judges is more like a court of law, no?

    Obviously you don’t want to threaten an impeachment if you aren’t willing to follow through with it (like Dems aren’t willing to follow through on subpoenaing Trump’s tax returns after explicitly promising to do). But why foreclose the possibility?

    The Democrats have a major image problem (for good reason): they look cowardly, phony, and feckless. They need to deal with that eventually, and they don’t seem to be doing it now. The GOP may be disintegrating, but I don’t think they are alone in that – they’re just doing it faster. In fact the Speaker said recently that American ‘needs’ a strong GOP. Really? I think we need a shattered, weak GOP.

    • Roquentin March 25, 2019 at 5:11 pm | #

      The energy put into impeachment should go into winning the 2020 election. But I think the obsession with impeachment tacitly implies an unsettling conclusion: that these liberal Russiagaters, consciously or subconsciously, don’t believe they can win against Trump. Many of these neoliberal types have nothing but contempt for the voting public. They dislike the idea of even having to pretend to listen to them for a few months. And, to be fair, they haven’t recovered from the humiliation of losing last time.

      I’ll go even further and say the only true way to exorcise Trump and the forces behind him will be to solidly defeat him in a free and fair popular election. Anything else will just ultimately look like liberals trying to tip the scales, which thanks to this asinine Russiagate bullshit, Trump will have some justification for.

      • jonnybutter March 25, 2019 at 7:51 pm | #

        I strongly agree with Corey that this is not a ‘if you strike at the king, you better kill him’ deal. This Mueller dud is not going to change much politically. For one thing, Trump would declare himself vindicated no matter what.

        I would say impeaching Trump before 2020 would likely be a mistake, since you’re unlikely to get a conviction; and, since the Dems have no positive political vision, it would probably backfire on them politically. But ‘likely’ doesn’t mean you pointlessly take it off the table. No one knows what’s going to happen in the next two years – a long time. Why not just shut up about it? And why use such daft rhetoric (‘he’s not worth it’)?

        This has nothing directly to do with Mueller’s report. Democrats are terrified of impeachment because they’re terrified of everything. They’re terrified of leading.The idea of their setting the terms of the debate, rather than reacting to (or copying) the GOP, mortifies them.

        Yes, by all means, since generating energy is out of the question – Dems are in the business of tamping *down* energy – let’s put what little already exists nationally into electing Biden, or Beto.

        Impeachment is not liberals or anyone else ‘tipping the scales’. It’s a constitutional provision put there for a reason. I think it’s corrosive to have such a remedy, and – even in a textbook case – it be unthinkable to use it. Unthinkable! It’s like the laws against so called ‘white collar’ crime. It’s worse to have those laws and not enforce them than it is to not have them at all. A good thing that came of the Mueller thing is the prosecution of some very corrupt people who wouldn’t normally have been indicted (like Manafort). If impeaching even *Trump* is unthinkable, what president would it thinkable to impeach?

      • WLGR March 26, 2019 at 10:10 am | #

        Put me down as well for the view that any energy spent on the prospect of impeachment is 100% a mistake. You make a good point that liberals’ focus on impeachment betrays a certain gnawing doubt that they could actually beat Trump in an election, but the more fundamental counterargument is closely related to the equivalent counterargument against focusing on Russiagate — both issues exert a sort of gravitational pull on liberals’ anti-Trump rhetoric, dragging it into stable orbit around the premise that the existing norms and institutions of US politics are fundamentally good, and what makes Trump bad is the extent to which he stands apart from these institutions and transgresses against these norms.

        Of course this false premise, that Trump represents some kind of negation of the existing US political and economic order, has been the Potemkin-esque core of Trump’s positive political appeal since 2015 if not earlier, and he never could have pulled it off without establishment Democrats actively helping him do it under the delusion that they’re somehow hurting him. If this is how Democrats continue to frame their anti-Trump rhetoric between now and 2020, then their fears about losing to Trump are entirely justified.

      • WLGR March 26, 2019 at 11:32 am | #

        And speaking of Žižekian anecdotes, another one that seems potentially relevant to the impeachment question is Žižek’s take on the Stalinist purges of the 1930s: that they were actually an act of self-preservation by the Soviet state apparatus, a way of appeasing anti-establishment sentiment among the masses by offering the satisfying spectacle of a select few high officials being ritually tormented and disgraced, but carefully controlled to avoid any true systemic threat to the underlying class power of the Soviet nomenklatura.

        Similarly, the ritualistic purging of Trump by the rest of the DC establishment (at least in rhetorical theatrics if not in reality) works as a lightning rod for potential anti-establishment sentiment among liberals and/or the left, channeling justifiable resentment against the ruling elite writ large into inchoate rage against a small select subset of its members, in a way that deliberately leaves the underlying power structures more or less unscathed. As earlier, sketching the contours of mainstream liberal anti-Trumpism along these lines starts to produce a picture uncannily similar to that of Trumpism itself.

  6. jonnybutter March 26, 2019 at 4:48 am | #

    A Tom Scocca tweet=>article just popped up on my Twitter feed that sums up many of my own feelings better than I did: It’s Good To Talk About Impeaching the Motherfucker

    • jonnybutter April 6, 2019 at 6:03 am | #

      Is bank fraud a high crime or a misdemeanor? How about attempting to foment mass killing or genocide? Oh I forgot – he’s not worth it! Let’s forestall even the possibility of impeachment, which is clearly too much to put the country through (the possibility). We have ‘prestige’ tv to binge-watch.

  7. F. Foundling March 27, 2019 at 2:20 pm | #

    The investigation was always, objectively and functionally, part and parcel of the overall McCarthyist climate and the corresponding drastic repositioning of the Dems/’liberals’, including the renewed hawkishness and jingoism, the Russia-baiting of those deviating from the centrist mainstream, the rehabilitation of neocons and other militarists, the veneration of the CIA and FBI, the normalisation of arbitrary online censorship by corporations in close cooperation with the national security establishment, and similar profoundly noxious and dangerous developments of the past few years. The uncovering of corruption in the Trump clique was clearly a punishment not for the corruption itself, but for deviation from establishment orthodoxy on foreign policy, and that will be decisive for its deterring effect in practice. (Perhaps the Trump clique really was more blatantly corrupt than the Clinton clique, but that would just be a reflection of how fatally efficient the system has become, ensuring that only utter delinquients deviate from its harmful and catastrophic norms; her ‘respectability’ was more noxious than his crookedness.)
    So in that sense, the investigation does leave the US in a place significantly worse than where it was. The best thing about it is the fact that it ended, since that may decrease the pressure on Trump to move closer to WW3. The overall political norms, however, have undergone a shift to chauvinism, authoritarianism, and militarism comparable to the shift in the early Bush years, and what makes this even worse is that this time, the responsibility lies primarily with the so-called left half of the US political spectrum, from which one might have expected something better.

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