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The Dartmouth
April 16, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Hill-Weld: Moving on from Mueller

Democrats must move on from the Russia investigation.

On March 22, special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his report on the two-year long investigation into Russian involvement in the 2016 election. Many Democrats have spent the previous two years on the edge of their seats, hoping Mueller’s report would allege that the Donald Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 election. Two days after Mueller submitted his report, attorney general William Barr submitted a four-page summary of the report to Congress — a decision that many Democrats decried as indicative of a lack of transparency and oversight. Given Barr’s public skepticism of the investigation, Democrats aren’t wrong to question whether Barr held back details that could have hurt the President’s standing. But even if Democrats have grounds to pursue a full release of the report, they dwell on the issue at their own peril.

Donald Trump did not win because of direct collusion with Russia. Instead, he capitalized on latent prejudice among American voters — the same sentiment that Russian hackers exploited by spreading misinformation during the election. For instance, consider the Russian-linked WikiLeaks dump of the Democratic National Committee emails; it proved effective because it reaffirmed people’s distrust of Hillary Clinton. To focus on Russia is a distraction. Entirely separate from the Russia investigation, the President’s chaotic games have kept Democrats — and often Republicans — on their toes as trade wars, a border wall, obtuse cabinet members and innumerable Twitter rants emanate out of the White House. 

Since Mueller submitted his report, the president has made false claims about the dangers of wind power, pushed to resume separations of families at the southern border and designated Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps a terrorist organization. And his cabinet members are not doing much better. Secretary of education Betsy DeVos oversaw a near-complete halt of federal student loan relief for defrauded students, and treasury secretary Steve Mnuchin defended his choice not to press the Internal Revenue Service to release Trump’s tax returns before Congress. 

 On April 9, Barr asserted that he would make the full Mueller report available to the public, or at least to Congress, within a week. But it would not serve the Democrats’ interests to spend another month digging through hundreds of pages of documents. After all, the Democratic primary still lacks a clear frontrunner, and more candidates seem ready to join the race. Democrats lack a well-defined base, with the far left splitting away from establishment voters. The Democrats need a big tent in 2020, and unlike divisive investigations into alleged collusion with Russia, opposition to Trump’s policies can serve as a unifying factor. 

Another full-scale effort to undermine Trump’s legitimacy with claims of collusion with Russia won’t unite the party. Instead of doubling down focus on Russia, Democrats should instead take each of Trump’s bad decisions at face value. Even without Russian collusion, Trump’s policy blunders display gross ineptitude and invite Democratic opposition.