Robert Mueller’s appearance before two House committees last week has been panned by people who say it didn’t add anything to our understanding of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

But Mueller’s appearance – and the media reaction to it – deserves some credit for shattering myths that we have been holding onto for too long.

Like:

Myth No. 1: “The cover-up is always worse than the crime.” This one has been hanging around since the Watergate years, and if it ever was true, it sure isn’t today.

No, kids, the cover-up is much better than the crime. If you’re a criminal, much, much better. Without one, you can get in a lot of trouble.

Mueller concluded  that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt that anyone in President Trump’s circle conspired with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. But he also said that the investigation was hampered by people who lied to investigators, destroyed evidence, made promises to witnesses and otherwise covered up.

For instance, there’s the part of the Mueller report that deals with Trump ally Erik Prince, an international security contractor, and his communications with ethno-nationalist idea-man Steve Bannon, then a Trump transition adviser. Prince flew to the Seychelles islands to meet with a sanctioned Russian banker who had close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Prince told investigators that he briefed Bannon before and after the meeting, but Bannon does not remember it.

“The conflicting accounts of Bannon and Prince could not be clarified by reviewing their communications, because neither one of them was able to produce any of the messages they exchanged during the time period surrounding the Seychelles meeting,” Mueller wrote in Vol. 1, page 156 of his report. “Prince’s phone contained no text messages prior to March 2017, though provider records indicate that he and Bannon exchanged dozens of messages. Prince denied deleting any messages, but claimed that he did not know why messages did not appear on his device.”

What happened at the meeting with the Kremlin’s money man and how deeply Trump’s inner circle was involved is lost to an inexplicable technical failure. We’ll just have to trust Prince that it was no big deal.

Myth No. 2 “A president can be impeached.”

This is a tricky one because it looks like Article 2, section 4 of the Constitution says that a president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors,” but the experts have made clear since Wednesday that it’s just some fancy 18th century language that’s just kept around for looks.

Mueller confirmed last week that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in “sweeping and systematic” ways. He found proof that they wanted to help Trump win and they reached out to his campaign. In more than one case, the campaign welcomed the help and used it.

All through the campaign, Trump was pursuing a multi-billion-dollar real estate deal for a building in Moscow, and he was surrounded by people like Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort who hoped to parlay their closeness to Trump into financial opportunities for themselves.

When reports of Russian interference started to emerge, Cohen lied, Flynn lied, Manafort lied and Trump lied.

But according to the experts, it would be too traumatic for the country to open an impeachment inquiry to determine whether that conduct qualifies as “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Better that we have a president who feels the need to lie about where he makes his money.

Pay attention, future presidents  You should expect the same treatment as long as you win the election. And if what we have seen from Trump so far doesn’t cross the threshold, it’s getting hard to imagine what impeachable conduct would even look like.

Myth No. 3 Facts matter. This idea has been on the ropes for a while, but it would be good to put a nail in it once and for all.

Members of Congress dodged questions about Trump and Russia for months, claiming that they were waiting to see what Mueller’s investigation would come up with. When his 448-page report was made public in April, most of them went silent claiming they were taking the time to read it.

Three months later it’s obvious that they were reading polls, not the report. Support for impeachment tracks closely with Trump’s support in Congressional districts all across the country.

The only fact that really matters is the fact of the partisan divide. It starts everyone off with a conclusion, which they can reach by cherry-picking the facts that get them there.

Mueller may not have been the most exciting witness, but you can’t say he didn’t teach us anything.

 


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