The release of the report from Robert Mueller's ultimately pointless special counsel investigation on Thursday afternoon has shown us one thing: Obstruction of justice is the new, even lamer sequel to collusion. It is the respectable way of declaring that Donald Trump's presidency is illegitimate, which is what we have been looking for ways of saying since before his inauguration. If it wasn't the inherently unjust electoral college, it was the Russians working with Trump's campaign to steal the election from his opponent, who didn't even bother to appear in the states she needed to win. If it wasn't that, it was — well, listen, folks, this man should be impeached because, hold on, let me hit command+F on my keyboard here….
No document in American history has ever been less important than the Mueller report. If all 448 pages had consisted of nothing but the sentence "All work and no play make Bob a dull boy," we would still be listening to the same decontextualized accusations of "obstruction" from the same self-appointed media experts on executive branch law. These are the same people who tell us that not being "happy" is ipso facto evidence of guilt.
After two years of perfervid speculation about the contents of the pee tape, you would think that journalists would give it a rest. Instead we have moved in the space of about five minutes from theorizing about Trump's 30-plus years of experience working for the KGB to arguing that his unwillingness to pretend that he really enjoyed having his presidency undermined for half of his first term was a pleasant experience makes him guilty of something called "obstruction of justice." Collusion was obvious before it was non-existent. Then, in about five seconds, it became irrelevant.
What kind of person do you have to be to spend two years insisting on the basis of no evidence whatsoever that a crime occurred and then, virtually the minute your baseless assertions are proven false, start banging on about how the suspect's attempts to prove himself innocent are themselves criminal? This is not skepticism or concern for the truth at all costs or any of the other clichés about our precious freedom of the press and our First Amendment rights; it is gormless partisan hackery.
Trump did not obstruct justice. He cooperated fully with an investigation that was begun in bad faith at the behest of his political opponents. He would have been well within his rights to have fired not only James Comey but Rod Rosenstein and Jeff Sessions and even Mueller himself years ago. Cooperation does not mean opening oneself to a perjury trap by granting interviews to Boy Scout special prosecutors; it does not mean remaining silent as a spurious, ill-conceived investigation drags on for months and years. It certainly does not mean never even entertaining the possibility of dismissing various executive branch officials.
Every single man and woman who works for the Department of Justice serves at the pleasure of the president, from whom their authority is derived. All federal law enforcement activity in this country is directed by the president and his deputies. Trump could — and probably should — have ended the Mueller investigation long before now. A president is under no obligation to participate in attempts by his enemies to employ various constitutionally dubious mechanisms to undermine his administration. If you don't like this, move to a country with a head of state who is not elected.
It is still far too early to say how Democrats will respond to the release of the report. Some of them are already making noise about "impeachment," a move that Nancy Pelosi has shown herself unwilling to entertain. This is exceedingly clever on her part. It is far more advantageous for her party to cultivate the public image of the president's illegitimacy than to vote to impeach him only for the Republican-controlled Senate to fail to remove him from office — or even to refuse to consider the articles of impeachment in the first place. A failed coup attempt makes Democrats look weak. Endless insinuation that the president is a crook diminishes his authority — and sounds great to donors.
We are now only a year and a half away from the 2020 presidential election. It is here that the question of Trump's fitness to serve his country as commander-in-chief will be decided one way or the other. Which brings us right back to where we started in 2016. Maybe this time we will take the decision of the American people seriously. Unless the result looks different from last time, something which looks less and less likely every day, I somehow doubt it.