Prosecutors describe a president who was preoccupied with ending a federal investigation, a White House that repeatedly told misleading and changing stories, and a presidential campaign that was in repeated contact with Russian officials for reasons that are not always clear.
Even though prosecutors concluded that didn’t amount to provably criminal conduct, the report is astounding in its sweep. Yet it is also a reminder of how much the public has learned over the past two years about Mr. Trump’s conduct.
If the American public or members of Congress were learning these things for the first time, the political fallout would normally be devastating. The consequences of the report remain to be seen, but if people are not surprised or shocked by the revelations, then Mr. Trump may have benefited by the steady drip of news stories he has so loudly criticized.
It brings us back to the cruel fable about boiling a frog, which came to the fore shortly after Mueller first submitted his findings to Attorney General Bill Barr.
The idea, as regular readers may recall, is straightforward: if someone were to throw a live frog into a pot of boiling water, the shock would be immediate and the frog would leap out.
But if the frog is placed in tepid water, and the temperature increased gradually, the frog would slowly acclimate to the hotter temperatures – until it’s too late.
Putting aside whether the fable is true, it offers some parallels to the revelations surrounding the Russia scandal. Reading the Mueller report yesterday, some of the disclosures were familiar because we’d learned of them before, by way of investigative reporting from major news organizations.
Despite the recent wave of condemnations about “the media” getting the Russia scandal wrong, journalists actually got nearly all of the story right. Coverage the White House condemned as “fake news” has since been corroborated.
For Donald Trump and his followers, the fact that the special counsel didn’t indict the president effectively ends the conversation. The scandal was a mirage, they say, and those who took it seriously fell for a “hoax.”
To believe this is plainly absurd, but it’s also evidence of people who’ve chosen to play the role of the frog.
If we knew literally nothing about the Russia scandal before yesterday, the Mueller report would effectively end Trump’s presidency. We now know America’s sitting president lied and encouraged others to lie. We now know his political operation had “numerous links” with the Russian attackers who targeted our elections to put him in power. We now know Trump personally and repeatedly took a series of steps to undermine a federal criminal investigation – in which he personally was a subject.
We also know, of course, that the investigation into this scandal led to felony charges against Trump’s campaign chairman, deputy campaign chairman, White House national security adviser, and personal attorney – each of whom have either been convicted, pleaded guilty, or both.
None of these observations are being contested by anyone. No one has even tried to argue that Mueller’s assessments are incorrect. The findings are both devastating and widely accepted as fact.
If all of these truths came to the fore at once, the idea that Trump and his party would be pleased with the revelations would seem hopelessly insane. Talk of a White House “victory lap” would seem like an excerpt from a Lewis Carroll story in which reality had little meaning.
It’s why it’s all the more important to pause and take stock. News consumers and the rest of the political world have watched the process surrounding the special counsel investigation play out episodically, day by day, indictment by indictment, court hearing by court hearing, adapting as Mueller and his team gradually raised the temperature.
Yesterday, however, the water reached a boil.