Problem in White House is incompetence, not collusion

Linda Chavez

Sitting in the greenroom with me as we were about to go on air on one of the cable news shows a couple of months ago, a Trump supporter told me: “Linda, I saw the Trump campaign up close in 2016. They couldn’t have colluded their way out of a paper bag.” It was an odd defense — basically, incompetence — of the oft-repeated charge that the campaign had colluded with Russia during the presidential election. But at the time, it struck me as plausible, if not probable. It appears special counsel Robert Mueller agreed.

A week after Mueller submitted his report to the attorney general, we still don’t know exactly what is in its 300-or-more pages, but we do know that the special counsel concluded that the president and his campaign did not conspire with a foreign adversary to subvert the presidential election. This is a good thing, about which we should all breathe a sigh of relief. But that does not mean that the nearly two-year investigation was a waste of time and money, or that it was launched by a group of zealous partisans in the intelligence community to try to overturn the results of the election, as the president and his allies have charged.

Russia did indeed interfere in the 2016 election — and tries to interfere in our elections to this day. But that does not mean that Russian interference elected Donald Trump. I have always believed that Russia’s intentions were to sow chaos and doubt about the democratic process — and it succeeded wildly at doing just that.

No doubt Vladimir Putin detested Hillary Clinton and saw Trump as a more malleable foe, but the real goal was to undermine the trust of the American people in their own system. Unfortunately, Putin’s objectives are furthered by those on the left and the right when one side claims widespread disenfranchisement and voter suppression, and the other complains of a deep state unaccountable to elections.

Both complaints are wrong. Our electoral system may not be perfect, but apathy is a far greater problem than voter suppression; and bureaucracies and the administrative state notwithstanding, elections do have consequences.

It will be some time before we know more about Mueller’s findings — a matter of weeks, not months, according to the attorney general. The Democratic-controlled House may try to speed up the process through subpoenas or taking the issue to court, but we will see most, if not all, the substantive evidence investigators unearthed soon enough.

It is hard to imagine that the president and his team will come off looking good when we see the final picture. We will learn just how many times Russians reached out to the campaign. We will find out if anyone put their loyalties to a particular candidate aside to pick up the phone and alert the authorities.

We will get some insight into why so many Trump associates, according to their own admissions and guilty pleas, lied to investigators and Congress when asked about their interactions with Russian officials and emissaries. It may all come down to stupidity and incompetence, as my Trump-supporting fellow pundit suggested, but it will serve as a warning sign to this and future campaigns. Beware of Russians (or any foreign government) bearing gifts.

Unfortunately, President Trump is a slow learner and he’s now on the attack, calling the investigation “treasonous” and promising to hunt down those who helped initiate it. Politics is a rough game, but the president, who has bullied his way through life, seems unprepared to take his lumps as they come.

It is a sign of health, not weakness, that investigators looked into the president’s actions and those of his subordinates. It is hard to imagine that Republicans would have turned a blind eye if they had learned that former President Barrack Obama or operatives in his campaign held multiple secret meetings with Russian operatives in 2008, or that Hillary Clinton did so in 2016.

President Trump should let it go — and be thankful that Robert Mueller acted with honor and without partisanship.

Editor’s note: Linda Chavez is chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity and a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center. To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.