Thousands of the readers of The Washington Post suffered strokes, heart attacks and an outbreak of social disease this week in the wake of its big front-page story that Robert Mueller, in hot pursuit of the president for lo! these many months, has informed Donald Trump’s lawyers that the president is not, after all, “a criminal target.”
This has been more or less obvious to everyone who has been watching Mr. Mueller’s pursuit of whatever collateral prey that crosses his line of vision, but it’s an article of faith among the political elites, who gag at the sight and sound of President Trump, that if all other pursuers fail, the special prosecutor won’t. Isn’t the president already measured for his prison stripes for conspiring with the Russians to destroy America? Don’t the good and virtuous who stand with Hillary Clinton deserve to watch Mr. Trump take the celebrated perp walk?
These folk could not believe their eyes when they woke up to the news that Mr. Mueller had “informed President Trump’s attorneys last month that he is continuing to investigate the president but does not consider him a criminal target at this point, according to three people familiar with the discussions.”
These three people do not include, so far as anyone can tell, Rep. Maxine Waters, the intellectual brain and the beating heart of the Democratic movement to dispose of the president by any means necessary. Mrs. Waters wanted to impeach the new president even before he was inaugurated. Usually prosecutors wait until a crime has actually been committed before referring a defendant to the hangman, but sometimes the rope can’t wait.
The Post’s blockbuster (or at least a vacant lot buster) hit the Mob with such merciless pain and incredulity that three days later the newspaper offered crying towels and aspirin and suggested maybe it should take it all back. Or it would if it could. Or something. The Post headlined a second dispatch from the front with a tiny hint of reassurance: “Mueller told Trump he’s not a criminal target in the Russia probe. That may not mean what you think.”
Other media, with similar investment in the story, had said that it was only a matter of time until Mr. Mueller would deposit the president at the prison gate. Allenwood, perhaps, or Fort Leavenworth, and too bad Alcatraz is closed for the season.
Many despairing Hillary voters had mortgaged their homes, farms and sold the children to raise the bus fare to Washington to watch the proceedings, and now they were told the show might be rained out.
Mr. Mueller is keeping his silence, as he should, and his shop does not leak. A needed example, perhaps, for the White House, where everything leaks. But there’s ample speculation about what the meaning of “is” is. Maybe the special prosecutor gave Mr. Trump’s lawyers that message, whether it warms the presidential heart or not, because he may think no president, Republican or Democrat, Vegetarian or Whig, can be the target of a criminal probe, the whole point of which is an indictment leading to a criminal trial.
Or maybe he’s tempting the Donald to meet him for an interview, counting on the president’s rapacious ego to play a game of catch-me-if-you-can, goading him to say something to justify a charge of perjury. (A lie is what tripped up Bill Clinton.) Or maybe he thinks that he and his team of lawyers, mostly partisan Democrats, some of whom were donors to Hillary’s campaign and all of whom are presumed to be honorable men, have not found the evidence that makes Mr. Trump a legitimate target. This is the nightmare of the Mob, who demand conviction first, evidence in the bye and bye.
Removing a duly elected president of the United States from office is exceedingly difficult. We’ve tried it twice, impeaching one Republican and one Democrat. Both were acquitted. Making it difficult is how the founding fathers designed it, which in the mind of the Mob renders the founders complicit in colluding with the Russians. The United States was never intended to be a banana republic where guns, knives and ropes are the usual method of defeating the opposition.
We do that with elections, which are even more difficult to manage than impeachments, but ours is not an age for reflection, caution or consideration in the affairs of state. The Mob is getting an education in how things work, painful as it may be.
The news of the week, beginning with disappointment for all those folks who put the champagne on ice months ago, could serve to let them down easy to await the final curtain on Mr. Mueller’s search for presidential collusion with the enemy. Sad but true, many a heart is broken, after the ball.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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