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Whataboutism, Trump, Hillary, and Covington

The bonfire of the hypocrisies.
March 25, 2019
Whataboutism, Trump, Hillary, and Covington
Good times. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Ken Starr has a smart piece arguing that now that the investigation is over, it’s important that Robert Mueller stay quiet.

Starr’s essential argument is that if a prosecutor can’t indict a suspect, then the traditions of American law demand that he not go to the public and impugn the suspect. Here’s Starr:

One relevant first principle was dramatically illustrated in the breach during the waning weeks of the 2016 presidential campaign. Then-FBI Director James Comey announced at a press conference that no criminal charges would be brought against Hillary Clinton. Comey didn’t stop there, however. In that press conference, which will continue to live in infamy, Comey sharply criticized the former secretary of state for her ill-considered conduct in housing a server in her private residence, only to receive official and—not infrequently—classified information.

The nation should have risen, as one, in righteous indignation in the aftermath of the Comey press conference. In a single misadventure, Comey both seized power that was not his—the power to seek an indictment, a prerogative that was entrusted to the attorney general—and then violated one of the fundamental principles of public prosecution: Thou shalt not drag a subject or target of the investigation through the mud via public criticism. Prosecutors either seek an indictment, or remain quiet.

I have some questions.

(1) Of the people now defending Trump, roughly what percentage of them were outraged by Comey’s public take-down of Hillary Clinton in 2016? (Excepting Starr, who I happen to know was outraged at the time, because I spoke with him about it then. He is a man of deep honor and integrity. And a great writer, too. You should read his book.)

(2) Of the people who now say that Trump is “exonerated” by Mueller’s decision not to indict, roughly what percentage believed in 2016 that Comey’s decision not to indict “exonerated” Hillary Clinton?

(3) Remember when Trump supporters chanted “lock her up” about Hillary Clinton, and Trump said, “Lock her up is right.” Why were they not respecting the decision of law enforcement and prosecutors not to indict her? Why did they not believe that the failure to indict Clinton was an exoneration?

When, exactly, did they come to believe that strict legalism is the final word on culpability?

We have arrived at a place where Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are in almost exactly the same position: Both of them committed obvious wrongdoing. Both of them were investigated. Both investigations found troubling facts. Both of them were protected by a friendly attorney general. And both escaped prosecution.

But here’s the best part: None of the partisan defenders from either camp can see how they’re exactly like the people on the other side.

As the kids say: lol nothing matters.

Matt Taibbi got all the clicks on Sunday by demanding accountability for the media because somehow Mueller=WMD. Taibbi is very angry at the The Media.

“The Media” is a pretty big place. It encompasses the New York Times, hundreds of traditional print outlets, a dozen or so domestic TV networks, thousands of websites, bloggers, what have you. If you were to hazard a guess on the total number of people who attached their names in some manner to some bit of reporting or analysis about the Mueller investigation over the last two years, where would you put the number? 10,000? More?

I can’t speak for all of it. I literally watch 0.0 hours of cable news per year. What I can say is that I read a lot of Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker, Jonathan Swan and the Washington Post, Eliana Johnson and Tim Alberta. And although some of these folks may have gotten some things wrong, if you were getting your information from this group and other mainstream print reporters, you had a pretty good sense of what was happening.

Print journalism wasn’t error-free. That big Buzzfeed story now looks even worse now. And some of the people who tried to make predictions based on indictments and the Southern District of New York and dried chicken bones didn’t do so hot.

But the actual print journalism on the Mueller investigation? From where I sit, it was mostly pretty careful and added a lot of value. People who read it knew more about what was going on than people who didn’t.

I suspect complaints The Media are really complaints about Twitter and cable news. That’s fine, so far it goes. I take it that many, many people predicted things on Twitter, or said things on cable news, that did not come to fruition.

Is that a big deal now?

Because it didn’t used to be a big deal. For instance, I remember this guy who kept banging on and on and on about how Barack Obama wasn’t born in America. He did this for like three years—even longer than the Mueller investigation.

Then he ran for president and instead of being held accountable for his tweets, he declared victory by saying that he was the one who finally forced Obama to produce a birth certificate. As if he’d done America some great favor.

And then this guy’s enablers all clucked about how it wasn’t really his fault anyway and he didn’t start it. Like everything else, it was Hillary Clinton who was actually to blame.

It’s always about Hillary.

Rushing to judgment was bad during the Covington Catholic/March for Life ruckus. Remember that? People took a few short videos and photos and came up with a whole narrative about how this smirking kid in the MAGA hat was trying to bully and intimidate a Native-American tribal elder.

But then the full video came out and the story was much more complicated. And then the Covington defenders went to Defcon 1 about how the media was always rushing to judgment without having a 360-degree global view of the facts. And by total coincidence, the Venn diagram of Covington defenders and Trump supporters was a circle.

We currently have a four-page letter written by a Trump appointee that summarizes two years of work and God knows how many pages of investigative reporting. And the same people who cried out for justice on behalf of Covington Catholic are 1,000 percent certain that Mueller’s report “exonerates” Trump, and that the entire thing was much ado about nothing, and now the media must be made to pay.

Does the Mueller report really exonerate Trump of any wrongdoing? I hope so. It would be super awesome to have a president who hasn’t obstructed justice, or broken campaign finance laws, or benefitted from the electoral interference of a hostile government. But since Mueller explicitly says that his report “does not exonerate him” on obstruction—Mueller says those exact words!—I kind of doubt that it will.

Instead, we’ll be left exactly where we thought we’d be: With a messy pile of facts and narratives that can be interpreted in a variety of different ways, depending on whose ox you’re trying to gore.

And that’s okay. The entire purpose of this investigation wasn’t to magically overturn the election or LOCK HIM UP. The Trump administration was always going to be terminated or continued by voters. As it should be. No, the purpose was to find out as much of the truth as possible. Robert Mueller has now done that.

Once we’ve had a chance to read the report—however much of it is released—then we’ll be able to understand what, if any, wrongdoing the president is guilty of.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.