The other day, I was woken from my afternoon nap by a thunderclap of stunned silence emanating from the United States, where special prosecutor Robert Mueller had just handed over the results of his probe into the allegedly cosy relationship between Donald Trump and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.
In spite of 22 months of round-the-clock effort by an army of investigators who interviewed around 500 witnesses, issued 2,800 subpoenas and executed 500 search warrants, Mueller had found no evidence whatsoever of collusion between Trump and the Kremlin. On the contrary: the Trump campaign was inundated “by offers of assistance from Russia-affiliated individuals,” and according to Attorney General William Barr, spurned them all.
This came as a terrible disappointment to those who hoped the Russia scandal would cause Trump’s downfall. Many Noseweek readers initially fell into that category, but our expectations were downgraded by Rian Malan, who authored a prophetic piece on the subject back in February 2018 (nose221). Operating from his armchair, Malan had deduced that the collusion charges were largely based on a stop-Trump ploy funded by the Clinton campaign and executed by Christopher Steele, a retired British spy who claimed Trump and Putin were engaged in a “well-developed conspiracy of cooperation”.
“It was a fascinating charge,” says Malan, “but when it emerged that Steele was secretly paid by Team Hillary, it began to look flimsy.” Hence the piece in Noseweek, which bore the following headline: “The evil Russians who robbed Hillary of victory. Only they didn’t.”
I took some stick for publishing such a heresy, as did Malan, who claims some of his closest friends accused him of “falling off the edge into blind zealotry,” especially when Mueller started indicting Trump associates for obstruction of justice. “I suggest you be cautious now,” wrote one adviser. “Wait until the plea bargainers start singing. There are exposés still to come.”
Various small fry in the Trump campaign were indeed collared and squeezed by Mueller, but all that emerged was a tacky yarn involving hush-money payments to a porn star plus criminal indictments for Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, and Paul Manafort, his former campaign manager. But their crimes involved sleaze and tax evasion, not cuddling up to the Kremlin.
Does Trump’s vindication really matter? Well, yes. To Trump himself. After years of complaining that the Russia investigation was a “witchhunt,” Donald now maintains the whole thing was an attempted coup on the part of the Deep State, a possibly imaginary alliance of senior intelligence bureaucrats and Democrats who could not live with the fact that a beauty contest impresario had been elected president of the USA.
Methinks this argument should be taken seriously, if only because Donald Trump is arguably the first president in US history not groomed for office by the ruling elite. Republicans were horrified when he crushed Jeb Bush in the GOP primaries in early 2016. As for Democrats, they became hysterical when Trump defeated the supposedly invincible Mrs Clinton. There had to be some other explanation, and they mistakenly seized on the idea that Russians were to blame. According to Malan, “America might have been better off if both establishments had looked in the mirror and tried to understand why many Americans were so pissed off as to vote for a buffoon whose only coherent campaign pledge was to drain the comfortable swamp they live in.
Trump’s detractors seem unwilling to engage in painful self-examination. Congressman Adam Schiff, boss of the House Intelligence Committee, has vowed to pick up Mueller’s fallen standard and continue the hunt for proof of high crimes and treason. “Undoubtedly there is collusion,” Schiff told the Washington Post. “We will continue to investigate.” America’s great newspapers are taking a similar line, hammering at the idea that Attorney General Barr is conspiring to conceal explosive truths buried somewhere in Mueller’s reportedly 400-page report. This seems unlikely, given that most of Mueller’s key subordinates were liberal lawyers who would be leaking their heads off if Barr was distorting their findings.
“Trump remains the greatest reality TV show in human history,” says Malan. “The very first thing I do every morning is check out American websites for news of his latest outrage. I think there are billions like me across the planet, all addicted to The Donald Show and secretly dreading its end.”
Mr Nose would not quite go that far. Indeed, Mr Nose is rather eager to see the back of Mr Trump, who represents the uglier side of America. But we believe in free speech, so we let Malan have his say, and he turned out to be right in the end. As often happens in these pages. – The Editor
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