After nearly three years of investigation, after hundreds of interviews and thousands upon thousands of pages of documents, after scores of indictments and court hearings and guilty pleas, after endless hours of cable-TV speculation, the moment of reckoning has arrived.
It will be a reckoning for President Donald Trump, but also for special counsel Robert Mueller, for Democrats, for Republicans, for the news media and, yes, for the system as a whole. The delivery of Mueller’s report to the Justice Department on Friday marked a turning point that will shape the remainder of Trump’s presidency.
Washington has invested in Mueller’s findings so much that it may be hard for what he has delivered to live up to the anticipation. But once released, the Mueller report will transform the political landscape, fueling calls for Trump’s impeachment or providing him fodder to claim vindication — or possibly, in this live-in-your-own-reality moment, both.
Democrats recently have played down the report, fearing that anything less than a bombshell would undercut their own drive to investigate Trump, not only on Russia’s election interference but on the myriad other subjects that have drawn their attention. Trump, for his part, has engaged in a particularly manic Twitter spree lately, in what some have interpreted as a sign of his own anxiety.
Whatever else Mueller reports, his investigation has cast a cloud over Trump and his presidency. The special counsel has demonstrated that Russia intervened in the 2016 election with the goal of helping Trump, that the Trump campaign welcomed Russians promises of incriminating information about Hillary Clinton and that his advisers knew about stolen Democratic e-mails in advance.
The investigation has demonstrated as well that Trump was seeking to do business in Russia even as a candidate, and that he surrounded himself with crooks and liars in the form of advisers. That includes his campaign chairman, who is going to prison for lying and a variety of financial crimes.
Whether any of that adds up to impeachable offenses or even criminal liability for Trump after he leaves office remain open questions. He has repeated the phrase “no collusion” so often that anything short of a taped telephone conversation with President Vladimir Putin of Russia may be interpreted as exoneration.
Moreover, the president and his allies have raised enough questions about the conduct of his investigators to convince many of his supporters that the real scandal is the “deep state” trying to thwart the will of the democratic system by dislodging him from office. The people pursuing him, Trump argues, are motivated by partisanship or personal bias.
He has repeatedly complained about the “witch hunt,” including to reporters Friday before leaving the White House for Florida. A poll by USA Today and Suffolk University found that 50 percent of Americans agreed that Mueller’s inquiry was a witch hunt and that Trump had been subjected to more investigations than previous presidents because of politics.
And yet the swirl of scandal around Trump extends well beyond Mueller’s inquiry, which was largely limited to Russian election interference issues and any efforts by the president or his aides to obstruct the investigation. Other federal, state and congressional investigations are looking into his various entities and allies, including his business, his inaugural organization and his foundation.
But none of the investigations has carried the authority or import of Mueller’s, in part because of his long-standing reputation in both parties as a straight shooter and because of his investigatory tools.
So at last some questions should be answered or at least addressed: Is there more to the story of Russia’s involvement in the election than is already publicly known? Did the Trump campaign cross lines that others have not before? Has the president used his power to improperly impede investigators? Or have Democrats assumed too much in their zeal to bring Trump down? Have journalists connected too many dots that do not really add up? Can there be conclusions that are widely accepted in such a polarized era?