In the Mueller Investigation, Facts Matter

House Intelligence Committee members Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.). Photo by Greg Nash

As much as hoping for resolution of all of the outstanding questions about collusion (or not), interference in elections and cover-ups, I’m hoping that the work of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will bring back some sense to language, rigor—and fact.

As things stand right now, even the quickening trickle of indictments, investigative disclosures in the press and competing congressional reports merely seem to be waving red flags, signaling the latest release of anti-other, partisan bilge about what opponents are saying about the process.

Rather than centering the concerns of the nation as a whole on the substance of the problems being exposed, the special counsel’s investigation, secretive by necessity, is allowing the political parties to argue over the “factualness” of each disclosure, to spur more and more spin about each development. As a result people are using more and more far-fetched excuses for reason and logic as a base to claim either “vindication” or “gotcha” conclusions well short of what the information at hand has to say—all with little reference to actual findings or documents.

Frankly, don’t we have more important things to talk about than the daily developments in an investigation for which we don’t have insight?

The divisive talk speaks poorly about what will happen when we actually have a culmination of special counsel results because we can’t talk about what actually has been disclosed.

In the last week, Rick Gates, partner of Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign head, pleaded guilty to charges built on lying to the FBI about financial concerns a bit far afield from the substance of election interference by Russians. That plea prompted side-by-side surges of propaganda from pro- and anti-Trump campaigns about the true meaning of the plea toward what is expected to be a crescendo of inquiries that reach further into the White House.

And, we finally saw the Democratic response to a House Republican-only memo from members of the House Intelligence Committee about missteps (or not) by the FBI and the Justice Department about how they went after seeking a secret FISA court order to surveil Trump associate Carter Page.

At the end of this particular day, what we learned mostly was that Trump had no problems with classified documents in making public a Republican four-page analysis of those doings, but a major problem with Democrats coming to a different conclusion about the same documents based on the number of blacked-out redactions in the text. The spin(s) reflects little about the validity of the surveillance orders and everything to do with political infighting—and the inevitable bullying calls of bad behavior and personal insults, particularly from (and for) the president.

Democrats and Republicans each looked at the same documents. Republicans said the FISA arguments were too reliant on a dossier from Christopher Steele, who was paid to contribute to anti-Trump research, without properly identifying the dossier as coming from a biased source. Democrats said the dossier was among several intelligence sources, and that it had been identified as coming from political opposition research. In terms of persuading the American public of “missteps,” neither document really did much to resolve those issues.

None of this will help keep the November elections cleaner or more secure. None of this will underscore our need to deal with a Russia that feels no bounds on its actions.

By contrast, the detail about the lawyer and law firm that has worked on behalf of forces in Ukraine, resulting in the indictment of Alex van der Zwaan, has a lot to say about just how entrenched these kinds of efforts are in Washington.

Look, what all these events show is that we need the special counsel, Mueller. He is the designated umpire for the moment, and what we actually need is a set of follow-able and reliable fact-finding that will allow all parties to argue about what to do, rather than about the “factual-ness” of each finding. At some point in the future, Mueller may prove either goat or hero, not necessarily for what he finds, but for how it all is explained, about the degree to which all parties can agree on what has occurred.

When Team A wins the ball game against Team B, there still is plenty of room for debate on whether to fire the coach or to trade for new players, but we ought to be able to agree on how many hits, runs and errors occurred. Not so in this investigative ball game. To listen to the president, for example, the ump is biased in his calls, the rules are rigged, no matter which rules he chose to follow, his team never cheated and the other team did. Oh, and, in case you have forgotten, his team won the game—by a landslide, not by a razor-thin majority in three states.

The investigative processes to unearth what actually did happen, what may have crossed over rule boundaries, and whether the participants knew what they were doing or were “unwitting” participants may be exhaustive for Mueller’s team. But they certainly are proving exhausting to the American public to keep up, consume and adjudge each development.

After all, if Democrats are so sure that Mueller has the goods to upset the Trump apple cart, they may as well just let the president crow once too often.

At the heart of the issue, of course, is clash between the necessary secrecy of the Mueller operation, the insistence of a 24-hour cable news operation that wants to explain each partial development as if it is the final judgment and the desire of partisan politicians to make the most hay from the daily harvest of news.

What we need right now is a little patience and a lot more facts with explanation. It would be delightful if Mueller could actually be a little more forthcoming about the developments, but it would be equally delightful if pundits and politicians could hold back just a bit. We saw again this week that on-air cable pundits were being asked to explain new developments before they actually even had read documents outlining what was happening.

In visiting a museum, I like having some contextual information on the wall along with the actual art. In my current events-news museum, I’d like a little more painting along with my contextual opinion.

For myself, I’m still looking forward to Mueller Day, the day he’s done.

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