On NBC News’ “Meet the Press” yesterday, host Chuck Todd noted the dispute between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen, and asked Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) whether this is a potential area of scrutiny for the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Ohio Republican’s answer included a rather dramatic change of subject.
“Well, I think it’s going to be, you know, a he said and he said issue. So I think it’s probably better that, you know, this goes through the regular process, which is ongoing, Chuck. And I think the Mueller investigation ought to be brought to an end also. I mean, we need to have the facts lead to the right conclusion, and so I support the investigation, I have from the start. But we do need to wrap it up.”
The wording echoed a sentiment from Vice President Mike Pence in May, when he said, . “In the interests of the country, I think it’s time to wrap it up.” A month later, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) was a little more colorful on this point, sending a message to Mueller during a committee debate: “Whatever you got, finish it the hell up.”
None of these Republicans went into any detail explaining why, exactly, Special Counsel Robert Mueller ought to “wrap it up,” which is a shame because their appeals don’t appear to make a lot of sense.
Indeed, Mueller and his team appear to be making quite a bit of progress, with new indictments against Russian military intelligence officials issued just this month. Meanwhile, the criminal trial against Paul Manafort, who chaired Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016, begins tomorrow.
We are not, in other words, watching a federal probe that’s just spinning its wheels, going nowhere.
But the argument from Portman, Pence, Gowdy, and other Trump allies basically seems to come down to calendar considerations: the special counsel has been on the job for 15 months, and 15 months seems like a long time for a federal investigation to continue.
But is it? The Washington Post’s Paul Waldman recently put together a list of notable prior investigations conducted by independent and special counsels:
* Iran-contra: 6 years, 8 months (1986-1993)
* Samuel Pierce, HUD corruption: 9 years (1990-1999)
* George H.W. Bush administration, improper search of passport records: 3 years (1992-1995)
* Henry Cisneros, mistress payments: 11 years (1995-2006)
* Mike Espy, gifts from agriculture company: 6 years (1994-2001)
* Bill and Hillary Clinton, Whitewater: 6 years 8 months (1994-2000)
* Lewis “Scooter” Libby, CIA leak: 3-and-a-half years (2003-2007)
And that doesn’t include other recent federal investigations from Congress. The GOP’s investigation into Benghazi conspiracy theories, for example, lasted several years.
Of course, time isn’t the sole consideration. Productivity matters just as much, and on this front, a recent FiveThirtyEight report concluded, “In terms of the number of charges he’s been able to file, Mueller is moving quickly. At one year after the formal appointment of a special or independent counsel, only the Watergate special prosecution force had obtained more indictments and guilty pleas.”
All of which suggests assorted Republican partisans want the probe to end because it’s a political problem for the party and its president, not because of the merits. Fortunately, our justice system doesn’t work this way – at least it shouldn’t – which is why Mueller appears to be ignoring the hollow rhetoric.