It's rare that a left-leaning publication is willing to be honest about anything to do with Donald Trump — particularly regarding the investigation the Left is desperately hoping will finally take him down — but Vanity Fair summoned up the courage this week to publish a piece that acknowledges a bunch of things about the "Russia collusion" probe that most "Trump-haters" can't bring themselves to utter aloud.
In an op-ed for Vanity Fair's The Hive published Monday, T.A. Franks provides "A Trump-Hater's Guide To Mueller Skepticism" that ends up asking the question so many on the Right have been asking repeatedly in recent weeks: "Is this it?" Franks sets the dramatic scene of what are reportedly the final days of the seemingly interminable Mueller investigation:
For many Robert Mueller watchers, the air these days is electric. People sense the big shoes are about to drop. Donald Trump has submitted his written answers to Mueller’s questions. Paul Manafort has entered a plea agreement, but then continued to lie—at least according to Mueller. Jerome Corsi, fringe-right author and personality, is vowing to go to jail for life rather than sign on to Mueller’s version of events. Roger Stone is expecting to be indicted for something. So is Donald Trump Jr. And, most significant of all to those looking for a big payoff, Michael Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the timeline of a deal he was trying to make to construct a 100-story Trump-branded tower in Moscow. It turns out that the deal exploration continued past the time Trump had secured the Republican nomination, and Cohen and his associate Felix Sater, a real-estate promoter and one-time racketeer, had even discussed giving Vladimir Putin a $50 million penthouse in the building. “This is it,” people are saying. “This is the big one!”
The problem, Franks writes, is that after everyone comes down from this "familiar cycle of hype," the same nagging question pops up again: "So what?"
Some of the news, such as a Guardian story that Manafort met three times with Julian Assange, seems to be based on nothing at all. But even the solid news turns out to be generally non-earth-shattering. As the journalist Aaron Maté has been pointing out, we already knew the timeline of Cohen’s Moscow efforts, because BuzzFeed had already detailed them in May, painting a picture of a bumbling duo getting high on their own supply. (As for the latest revelations, did Sater and Cohen really think a president of Russia would move into a free $50 million penthouse provided by a U.S. presidential candidate? You have to wonder if they were hitting each other on the head with bricks.) Those who hope that Mueller reveals a shambolic operation with a lot of rascals engaged in sleazy and embarrassing behavior will be happy with the fruits of his labors. But those who hope for an unveiling of indictments linking Putin and Trump in a grand conspiracy have no more reason to celebrate than they did a week or a month ago.
The point is, where's the evidence of the insidious conspiracy that "stole" the election from the "inevitable" Hillary Clinton? Where's all that "collusion"? Where's something that's even criminal on Trump's part?
Certainly, Trump’s ethical standards are low, but if sleaziness were a crime then many more people from our ruling class would be in jail. It is sleazy, but not criminal, to try to find out in advance what WikiLeaks has on Hillary Clinton. It is sleazy, but not criminal, to take a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising a dossier of dirt on Clinton. (Just as, it should be mentioned, it is sleazy, but not criminal, to pay a guy to go to Russia to put together a dossier of dirt on Trump. This is one reason why the Clinton campaign lied about its connection to the Steele dossier, albeit without the disadvantage of being under oath.) It is sleazy, but not criminal, to pursue a business deal while you’re running for president. Mueller has nailed people for trying to prevaricate about their sleaze, so we already have a couple of guilty pleas over perjury, with more believed to be on the way. But the purpose of the investigation was to address suspicions of underlying conspiracy—that is, a plan by Trump staffers to get Russian help on a criminal effort. Despite countless man-hours of digging, this conspiracy theory, the one that’s been paying the bills at Maddow for a couple of years now, has come no closer to being borne out. (Or, as the true believers would say, at least not yet.)
Esteemed Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz, a self-described "liberal" who has frequently defended Trump over the last year, has likewise asked his own versions of "Is this it?" in his recent television appearances.
"I think the weakness of Mueller’s substantive findings are suggested by the fact that he has to resort to false statement prosecutions, which really shows that he didn’t start with very much, and that the very fact that he’s conducting an investigation has created these crimes," he said on Fox News Thursday in response to Michael Cohen's big plea deal. "These are not crimes that had been committed prior to his appointment, they’re crimes that were committed as the result of his appointment, and that raises some questions about the role of special prosecutors in creating crimes, or creating opportunities for crimes to be committed. ... In the end, I don’t think Mueller’s going to come up with very much, in terms of criminal conduct, that existed before he was appointed, and that’s pretty shocking."