|DAMON WINTER / THE NEW YORK TIMES|
When the sun came up over the Washington swamp on Monday morning, the presidency of the most corrupt and inept man ever to occupy the Oval Office had entered a "new phase," according to CNN, while The New York Times solemnly stated that "the cloud over Trump's presidency" was lifted. CNN helpfully added that this meant that Trump "could try to move on from the intrigue that has plagued him."
Move on to what?
Another few thousand lies? Robbing the defense budget to build his border wall? New trade wars? Even more effusive praise for Vladimir Putin? Further dismantling of the social safety net? Further attacks on America's core values?
Yes, the bar was too high for the scrupulous Robert Mueller to clear to bring forward a prosecutable case that Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia, but the special prosecutor was playing by the rules. Yes, the evidence apparently was" too uneven" to make the case that Trump obstructed justice in trying to shut down the Russia investigation through intimidation and witness tampering. More playing by the rules.
The full playing-by-the-rules Mueller report, if it ever sees the light of a Washington dawn, may tell a different story. As in the candidate and his campaign didn't need to reach out to Moscow because they already were getting help. A link already had been established. Duh!
In addition to the full report, equally important investigative documents and witness interview records from Mueller, thousands of court records and internal Justice Department discussions must be vetted, but for the foreseable future will be the prey in the epic legal battle royale about to commence between congressional Democrats and No Collusion Man, who of course is lying when he says "it wouldn't bother me at all" if the full report is released.
But for the time being, righteous heads like mine and probably yours will explode over vacuously short-sighted sentiments like those of CNN and The Times, as well as that dull roar of jubilation coming from the Make America Great Again pitchfork brigade
as their hero takes a victory lap and Republicans step up their nattering about Hillary Clinton's emails.
The Mueller report was not going to be a game-changer. Not in Post-Truth America, but we do know a few things about that "new phase," and they have the familiarity of the night sweats many of us have suffered over the past two-plus years.
Nearly everything Trump has ever touched has been cheapened if not corrupted by him. That will not change, and we need to remind ourselves and those who have now lost hope that the shamelessness of the man with small hands and peculiar hair was outside of Mueller's jurisdiction.
There were no further indictments from Mueller -- let alone one with Individual No. 1's name on it -- on top of the staggering 37 already handed up before the Sunday afternoon release by Attorney General William Barr and sidekick Rod Rosenstein of a summary of the special prosecutor's final report to lawmakers and public.
Barr did not play by the rules, and less than 48 hours after a 22-month investigation, he had made up his mind. Astonishing but not surprising, even if reports are true that he had advance knowledge that Mueller had not made a prosecutable collusion case, and it's difficult to not conclude that the AG is following Trump's script. That's called a whitewash, and those of us with long memories will recall that he did the same thing as AG for George H.W. Bush after the Iran-Contra scandal.
Barr, after all, pretty much predicted the summary in a 19-page memo to Rosenstein last June before Trump fired Jeff Sessions and appointed him. And Barr and Rosenstein quite obviously cobbled together a summary that put the president in the best possible light, which is all the more reason to make public the full report and gigabytes of related documentation.
Barr and Rosenstein also said that because Mueller drew no conclusion about obstruction -- which is rather shocking considering the firing of James Comey -- they wouldn't reach a conclusion, a rush to judgment they were not tasked with making. That is shocking in itself in two respects: First, Barr had as much as said Trump obstructed justice during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings. Second, the special prosecutor did draw a conclusion. He was not going to exonerate Trump.
The nauseatingly triumphalist Trump, for whom seeking vengeance is second nature, will now become more brazen than ever, and on Monday angrily suggested that his critics were "treasonous," guilty of "evil things" and should be investigated themselves.
He will step up his attacks on the news media and a liberal punditocracy that has been agonizingly slow to recognize the enormity of the scandal, which was nothing less than an unprecedented assault on the bedrock of American democracy. That, of course, will have a further cowing effect on all but the most determined journalists. You know, the women and men at The Washington Post, The Times, CNN, Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, Daily Beast, Mother Jones, and ProPublica whose many blockbusters have been not been seriously challenged.
And won't all the Trump associates who will be marching off to prison sooner or later, including his former campaign manager, lawyer-fixer and longest serving political adviser, feel really stupid if they're not pardoned by No Collusion Man? Just asking.
This leaves the people who play by the rules to deal with a man for whom the rules are mere cow pies on the road to further destruction and self-aggrandizement.
The Times stated that "No impeachment was in view," but there are multiple Democratic-led House investigations which more than ever should lead to just that. Even if there is no article of impeachment regarding Russia, there are ample grounds for impeachment on Trump's other high crimes and misdemeanors, even as Republicans up the volume on their hysteria about Hillary Clinton's emails.
There are a dozen or so ongoing criminal investigations by prosecutors in New York and Washington into a smorgasbord of evil-doing ranging from a family charitable foundation that was Trump's personal piggybank to campaign-finance crimes to cover up hush-money payments to women with whom he had affairs, his stillborn Trump Tower Moscow project, fraught relationship with money laundering-happy Deutschebank, abjectly corrupt inaugural committee, and the pay-to-play involvement of foreign governments seeking access to his administration. Carrying out these investigations are now more urgent than ever. Unless, of course, Barr derails them.
And what, by the freaking way, are we going to do about future Russian interference in American elections since No Collusion Man and congressional Republicans are so deeply indifferent? What about his obsessively deep relationship with Putin? And that oldie but goodie: If he is innocent, why has he acted so bloody terrified of getting caught?
The answer to the memorable question asked by the late Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker -- "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" -- amidst the turmoil of Watergate was that Richard Nixon knew just about everything, and he eventually was sent packing to San Clemente. The same question must be asked of Trump early, often and incessantly.
What may be most galling of all is that Trump has and will continue to brazenly operate in full view, stopping just short of committing chargeable crimes. Still, beyond the kowtowing of the closed-minded Barr, the legal system is working. Just ask Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone, among a fair number of others who have learned the hard way that if you fall into Trump's orbit you will be diminished and then burned.
There is not a lot of high ground left to seize in Post-Truth America. The people who play by the rules must recommit to doing so by taking and determinedly holding that scrap of high ground if the full report is to be made public and No Collusion Man is to be expelled from the crumbling temple of democracy.
Impeaching Donald Trump will be more difficult than ever, but that too is now more urgent than ever.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.