Clarence Fanto: In the end, Mueller's findings might not matter

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LENOX — The endgame is now coming into sharper focus.

It may not matter what special counsel Robert Mueller determines about whether the Donald Trump campaign, including the current occupant of the White House, collaborated and cooperated with Russia in an attempt to tilt the 2016 presidential election, and whether the president obstructed justice during the investigation.

Whether Mueller's report comes out by Sept. 1 or is delayed until after the midterm elections, the result will be the same. The country will be torn apart, even more than it is now, and a political "civil war" now bubbling under the surface will erupt with volcanic intensity.

That's because the White House resident, his consigliere, Rudy Giuliani, and senior counselor Kellyanne Conway have helped persuade 80 percent of Republicans that the investigation is illegitimate — "phony baloney" as the always thoughtful and eloquent Conway describes it — while about 80 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents believe in the integrity of the Mueller probe.

"So much is happening that has nothing to do with this phony baloney talking about the 2016 election," Conway said on "Fox & Friends." "Every time people talk about this phony Russia collusion — collusion doesn't even have legal significance — every time it's written by responsible people, every time they talk, they are talking about the 2016 election. And so we don't want to talk about the 2016 election."

(It's worth noting that although many legal experts agree that collusion is not a specific federal crime, except in antitrust cases, that doesn't mean that the alleged cooperation between the Trump campaign and Russia is of no criminal interest. To the contrary, if true, it may have violated any number of criminal prohibitions.)

According to a Trump insider cited by CNN, "If there is a room full of people trying to have a discussion, and there is a screaming baby, what is everyone going to think about? The screaming baby. Giuliani is the screaming baby." Or, put another way, the same source said, "Who is going to get the most attention? The craziest guy in the room."

But, I would argue, it's all part of a carefully crafted strategy. Giuliani is on a mission to push public opinion Trump's way by tearing down public confidence and trust in Mueller, a registered Republican, thus depicting him and and his team of investigators as illegitimate. The former U.S. attorney and New York mayor compared Mueller and his investigators to a "lynching mob" in a Sean Hannity interview on Fox this past week.

It's a much shrewder strategy than firing Mueller and/or Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, which would ignite a firestorm.

Giuliani is totally candid about the goal. "[What] we are defending here is for public opinion because eventually the decision here is going to be impeach or not impeach," Giuliani told CNN's State of the Union last Sunday. "Members of Congress, Democrat and Republican, will be informed a lot by their constituents. So, our jury — as it should be — is the American people."

Nevertheless, the president's concocted "spygate" conspiracy theory has been debunked by U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, the fiercely partisan South Carolina Republican who tried but failed to wear down Hillary Clinton during the House Select Committee's Benghazi investigation.

Gowdy has defended the FBI's use of a confidential informant to investigate potential Russian outreach to individuals connected to Trump's presidential campaign.

The House Oversight Committee chairman threw ice water on Trump's insistence that the FBI improperly "spied" on his campaign. Gowdy told Fox News that the FBI acted appropriately in its handling of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible connections to the Trump campaign.

After attending a Justice Department briefing on the confidential informant, Gowdy said that "I am even more convinced that the FBI did exactly what my fellow citizens would want them to do. It has nothing to do with Donald Trump."

Giuliani's retort to Gowdy: "He's drinking the Kool-Aid. I never understood what he did with Benghazi either. He really screwed that up. I don't know what he was doing."

What should we make of Giuliani, who worked with counterintelligence officials, calling former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former CIA Director John Brennan "clowns," as he did on CNN?

Apart from the childish playground insults, he is still cautious about allowing his White House client to be interviewed by Mueller because of a possible "perjury trap."

"Truth is relative," Giuliani argues. "They may have a different version of the truth than we do." In other words, reality doesn't matter, since the White House is armed with "alternative facts," the convenient phrase Conway thrust into the political lexicon last year.

As for Trump's consistently misleading tweets, Giuliani insists that "he feels the public opinion is turning in his favor. His tweeting has been effective."

That much is true. Many Americans are tuning out what they see as the inscrutable twists and turns of an investigation consistently undermined by Trump and his partners in "relative truth."

Democrats fantasizing about impeachment if control of the House shifts their way in November risk setbacks at the ballot box. Without a strong case to convince voters they can fix immigration, improve race relations, restore sane trade policies and start closing the economic inequality gap, the reality-show presidency we are enduring may have an open-ended run, at least until Jan. 20, 2025.

Clarence Fanto can be reached at cfanto@yahoo.com or on Twitter @BE_Cfanto. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.

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