Jennifer Rubin asks if there is a scenario where Robert Mueller exonerates Donald Trump and suggests that it is almost unthinkable. Her rationale is that Trump wouldn’t be behaving the way he’s been behaving if he didn’t have something very bad to hide.
There are a few ways to look at this. The first is that Rubin is absolutely correct and that Trump is knowingly guilty of collusion with the Russians’ hacking attempts and the strategy for making the best use of the hacked material. The conspiracy could even go deeper than this and involve knowledge of hacks on voter databases and shared electronic communications for the purpose of targeting voters. This would explain Trump’s behavior.
But there are other explanations possible that may lie in between total innocence and the type of evidence that would virtually compel a Republican congress to impeach and convict the president.
It may be true, for example, that Trump’s been heavily reliant on Russian investment in his real estate ventures. If this has involved money laundering on the Russian side, that’s not necessarily a criminal act on Trump’s end. He’s just selling condos and luxury apartments. In many cases, all he’s doing is selling his name to these projects. He may want to be friendly to Russia for financial reasons, but that doesn’t mean Mueller can point to high crimes. Maybe he can, but maybe he can’t.
Another possibility is that Trump’s campaign was compromised or penetrated by Russians or people in the Russians’ control. Why would Paul Manafort offer to work for Trump for free, for example? But this is different from Trump being compromised himself.
On the strict question of collusion, it won’t be easy to demonstrate that Trump knew or directed it even if it is proven beyond any doubt that it took place.
But even if Mueller never brings a slam-dunk case against Trump on collusion, he will bring charges against those who have already lied to FBI officers or committed other acts of obstruction. The case against Trump for obstruction looks promising to put it mildly. And the idea that Trump’s business and tax practices can survive close scrutiny seems like a stretch.
In the end, though, I can see a situation where Mueller does not conclude that Trump himself colluded with the Russians and exonerates him at least to the extent that he says that he can’t develop a case that he would bring to court.
If this happens, we’ll get the Scooter Libby defense that the underlying charges were not proven. In that case, the investigation was vindicated and justice done by bringing other related charges. In Trump’s case, things are complicated by the fact that he can’t be hauled into court. He may, however, discover that members of his family can be. Resignation could look like an attractive option if it could be part of deal that keeps his family out of prison.
So, Trump could be in some sense exonerated of the main charge against him. But I can’t see a scenario where this ends well for him. Flynn and Manafort are already in plea mode, and Jared Kushner is in big trouble, too. Donald Jr. obviously has his own problems, and I wonder if Ivanka could possibly be isolated from all of this or if she can survive the scrutiny of the Trump Organization’s business practices in places like Azerbaijan.
Mueller would also have to basically punt while in clear field goal range to avoid making an obstruction case against the president. He could decide to do this if he thought the underlying charge wasn’t proven and the best course is to end the constitutional crisis. But I don’t see that as very likely.
I think Trump has created a world of hurt for himself and his family no matter how this plays out, but there are many more possible outcomes to this than that the president is found innocent or guilty of collusion.