Why the Mueller Investigation was Good for the Country

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

The Mueller investigation was fully worth it, despite its conclusions. In early 2017, with a clearly corrupt president in place, but both houses of Congress dominated by the Republicans, there would have been no way to launch a legislative-branch inquiry into his misdeeds. The Special Prosecutor’s probe served as a fortuitous substitute.

Even though it was implausible from the start that collusion with Russia by Trump and his team swung the election, there were enough signs of deals with Russian political operatives and business figures to justify a probe. The appointment of a Department of Justice Special Prosecutor, though not initiated by the Democrats, was a gift to them.

During the administration’s initial two-year period, although the Democrats were out of power, Trump was under a cloud. The Special Prosecutor’s appointment was not based on a phony pretext – Russians had been involved in the election and Trump and his cohorts had encouraged them, although the Americans’ efforts were eventually judged by Mueller not to be criminal. In the course of the investigation, all manner of gangsterish tactics, sleazy cover-ups, and actual crimes were disclosed by Mueller and his counterparts in the Southern District of New York. Though almost none of them directly related to the ostensible subject of the probe, they compromised and unsettled Trump.

The investigation quickly began to deliver positive results for the President’s opponents. Trump’s anger led him to fire his Attorney General, Jefferson Sessions, a staunch racist. Trump’s obsession with Mueller’s activities kept him tweeting and deflected his full attention from his egregious policies. The ample evidence of corruption that came to light energized Democratic voters and almost certainly contributed to their large gains in the midterm elections, in spite of what appeared to be a strong economy.

Of course, some liberal pundits overplayed the Russophobic side the investigation. But so did the anti-“Russiagate” critics, who took glee in pointing out the lack of connection of each new criminal disclosure to election stealing. It was hard to determine whether they thought Trump was above entering into criminally corrupt dealings or the Russian elites were. In any case, while riling up leftist critics against the Mueller probe they inadvertently played into Trump’s “witch-hunt” scenario. They also disserved the opposition to Trump’s rampages by failing to appreciate that an investigation of wrongdoing by a president with universal support by his own party is almost unheard of when that party holds both legislative majorities. It was claimed that touting the investigation prevented the Democrats from pressing forward on the truly critical issues. But could they really have launched investigations on the climate, immigration, or Middle East policy at the national level given the composition of Congress?

In fact, these things were occurring vigorously at the local level, paying off nationally during the midterms by the election of progressive House members. This situation (which could easily be squandered by the House leadership) might never have occurred if the verminous underbelly of Trump-World had not been uncovered by Mueller and the New York Southern District legal team, notwithstanding the lack of actionable connections to Russian collusion. And once a fuller version of the Mueller document appears, it will certainly reveal for all to see how much sleaze, corruption, and conflict of interest are considered to be acceptable, noncriminal business-as-usual by the U.S. legal system.

Stuart A. Newman, Ph.D. is a professor of cell biology and anatomy at New York Medical College, and co-author (with Tina Stevens) of Biotech Juggernaut: Hope, Hype, and Hidden Agendas of Entrepreneurial Bioscience (Routledge).