Colluding, like canoodling, is all the rage. Robert Mueller, like a dog chasing his tail, has been trying for more than a year to find evidence that President Trump colluded with Vladimir Putin and the Russians to cook the 2016 election, which fate, providence, fortune and destiny decreed properly belonged to Hillary Clinton.
So far as anyone beyond his circle of thousand-dollar-an-hour lawyers know, Mr. Mueller has not come up with anything more than a few indictments of second- and third-tier aides, helpers, hangers-on, and lawyers that a nice girl would not take home to meet the folks.
Now The New York Times reports that the FBI colluded with the Australian ambassador to the United States, of all unlikely people, to find something to lend credence to the Russian collusion. Maybe, the FBI calculated, collusion could be catching. Mr. Mueller has demonstrated that he is not afraid to venture into the tall weeds in pursuit of Trump villainy (if any).
“Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016,” The New York Times reported this week in a dispatch both exhaustive and exhausting, “the FBI dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.
“Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian meddling. After tense deliberations between [the governments in] Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downey, to sit for an FBI interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.”
This tastes like thin soup, but the precedent-breaking interview — rare to say the least, because friendly nations don’t like to meddle in each other’s elections, scandals and internal affairs — became “the foundation” for Mr. Mueller’s investigation, the longest-running road show since P.T. Barnum imported the remarkable 3 foot 4 inch dwarf Tom Thumb for his Big Top.
This was a remarkable interview. The Australian government didn’t want to have anything to do with it, it seems clear, and obviously agreed to it under considerable cajolery. Only a tiny handful of officials knew about what the bureau code-named “Crossfire Hurricane.” The code name was taken from a Rolling Stones lyric, “I was born in a crossfire hurricane,” which the newspaper observes “was an apt prediction of a political storm that continues to tear shingles off the bureau.” (Jim Comey is a hip dude, all can agree, and has taken a shingle or two across his backside.)
Mr. Comey was, in early August 2016, trying to wrap up the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s highly unusual use of a private email server before he discovered something he could neither ignore nor explain away. He would lay out the persuasive case for indicting Mrs. Clinton for her easy and casual carelessness with the nation’s security secrets, only to retreat from his responsibility to pass everything on to the attorney general, Loretta Lynch, to do something responsible with it. Presidential candidates, unlike presidents, can be indicted (like ham sandwiches) for high crimes misdemeanors.
Nobody in the Obama administration wanted to have anything to do with that. The idea in high Democratic places was to protect Mrs. Clinton at whatever the cost because she would soon be elected to return to the White House. The FBI was thus delighted to move on from protecting Hillary to making sure that the Trump candidacy would be rendered not just dead, but graveyard dead, rendered a mere footnote to November.
Now there are intimations that soon Mr. Mueller’s investigation will be graveyard dead, too. He has agreed to put his fishing pole away and to sharply limit the questions he asks if President Trump agrees to an interview. There will be no perp walk, just a report by Mr. Mueller, with nothing for the Democrats in the House of Representatives to attempt to hang an impeachment indictment on.
Mr. Trump can say, with more steam than he has had so far, that he was a victim of an FBI where election-rigging has replaced pursuing crime. “It’s a witch hunt,” he said last month, “and they know that.”
The villain of the piece may turn out to be James Comey, who has himself presided over the shredding of his credibility and the shattering of his reputation. Robert Mueller has been unable not only to run the president to ground, but unable to protect his friend James Comey. The only positive in this shabby spectacle is that the idea of a special counsel/prosecutor can be rendered graveyard dead, too. It stinketh to nearly everyone.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.
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