One must assume that the primary purpose of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s surprise Wednesday press conference was the clarification of what he considered to be widely held misconceptions about his report. Alas, by the time Mueller had finished speaking, Americans seemed more confused than ever. Now, as before, to ask what Mueller “really meant”—and, indeed, what he “really thinks”—is to receive 100 different answers. The Mueller report, as the cliché goes, has ended up as a Rorschach test.
Americans will hear all sorts of explanations as to why this is. We will be told that it is because we are too “divided,” or because we live in a “post-truth world,” or because Attorney General William Barr is too sneaky. But none of these explanations is correct. The truth is that from the very moment the investigation was announced, it was inevitable that we would end up with a mess. Because, as usual, our political leaders abdicated their constitutional responsibilities and contrived to use the wrong tools for the job.
Having apparently learned nothing from the failure of the now-expired Independent Counsel Act, Washington D.C. settled quickly on the idea that the best way to examine whether the head of the executive branch had done something criminal was to open an investigation within … the executive branch. That this approach was absurd would have been clear in any other circumstance; can we really imagine permitting the subject of, say, a racketeering investigation to control his investigator on the understanding that any improprieties would be evaluated later? For some reason, though, when the president is involved, we tell ourselves that if we just get the right guy, everything will work out.