This past week, we saw the first concrete evidence that Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign colluded with Russia — and it seemed as if no one cared. That’s a reason to ask a disturbing question: What if the slow burn of Robert Mueller’s investigation ends with a fizzle, not an explosion?
What if Mueller, in his role as special counsel, uncovers meaningful proof that the Trump campaign for president knowingly and actively cooperated with Russian efforts to get Trump elected — and the public treats the news as completely unremarkable? That would mark a radical transformation in the nature of contemporary U.S. politics.
Of course, it’s far from certain that Democratic efforts to draw attention to the shocking facts would fail. But the fizzle outcome now looks genuinely possible, not because Mueller won’t get the goods, but because of a combination of Trump’s talent at changing the subject, his Republican supporters’ ho-hum attitude toward campaign wrongdoing, and public fatigue at the duration of the investigation.
To understand this potential scenario in which Mueller strikes pay dirt and Trump nevertheless emerges unscathed, the place to start is with the latest revelation about Paul Manafort.
The astonishing and entirely new fact revealed last week is that, according to Mueller, Manafort, while chairman of the Trump campaign, sent polling data to a Russian associate with close ties to Russian intelligence.
Until now, Mueller’s investigation and reporting by the news media have established two things: that Russian intelligence actively tried to influence the outcome of the election, and that Russian intelligence used numerous pathways to reach out to members of the Trump campaign and inner circle.
Lacking so far is any direct proof that the Trump campaign took up these overtures in a way that actively constituted cooperation or collusion.
If it can be substantiated — and Mueller almost certainly wouldn’t be alleging it if it couldn’t — the Manafort revelation is that proof. This cooperation with Russia didn’t come from some minor figure in the campaign, but from the chairman himself. This is a hugely significant development.
Yet this development, which should have dominated the news cycle, fell distantly behind the topics of the government shutdown, Trump’s prime-time address on border security, and the president’s threat to invoke emergency powers to build the Mexican border wall that Congress has denied him.
Why did the Manafort news get so little attention? Several factors probably contributed. ...
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