When figurehead Robert Mueller likely allowed Andrew Weissman to form his special counsel team to investigate so-called charges of Russian collusion involving Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and the Kremlin, Washington elites became bouncy. The high-profile legal “powerhouse” lineup immediately looked like a sure-thing—an elite slaughter of the yokels.
As they perused the résumés of the New York and Washington prosecutors, and the Wilmer-Hale veterans, reporters were ecstatic that the supposedly straight-shooting Republican Mueller had turned his investigation into what the media soon boasted was a progressive “dream team” of “all-stars,” a veritable “hunter-killer team” of get-Trump professionals. One would have thought mere names and credentials win indictments, regardless of the evidence.
The subtext was that Trump had all but met his Waterloo. Indictments for conspiracy, obstruction, and worse yet inevitably would follow, until Trump either resigned in disgrace or was impeached. The media counterparts of the dream-team on MSNBC and CNN would make short work of the rubes. On air law professors and legal analysts who knew “Bob” Mueller (the same ones who assured us that “Jim” Comey was a “straight-shooter”), after all, swore this would be true.
Almost all the all-stars were not just liberal but “correct” as well. Many were either Clinton donors; a few in the past had defended either Clinton aides or the Clinton foundation. Many also had been tagged as Department of Justice future superstars. Their tony degrees seemed designed to spell the doom of the buffoon Trump.
Wired immediately boasted of Mueller’s team, “From the list of hires, it’s clear, in fact, that Mueller is recruiting perhaps the most high-powered and experienced team of investigators ever assembled by the Justice Department.” If “high-powered” seemed the signature adjective, then “ever assembled” was supposed to sound downright scary.
A Vox headline on August 2, 2017 summed up the progressive giddiness of the time: “Meet the all-star legal team who may take down Trump.” The subtitle offered more snark: “Special counsel Robert Mueller’s legal team is full of pros. Trump’s team makes typos.” Get it? Young-gun pros against the so-sos.
So, whom exactly did Trump enlist against the all-stars?
An NPR editorialist in June 2017 condescendingly tried to explain Trump’s hapless plight: “If you asked a Washington insider to come up with a legal dream team for a situation like this, it’s highly unlikely this is who they would come up with. But President Trump came into office as an outsider and continues to operate that way, and in a way his legal team is a reflection of that as well.”
What is “this” and who exactly is “who”?
Trump’s Team: Not a Harvard Law Degree in Sight
The 75-year-old Rudy Giuliani who appeared in seemingly nonstop television appearances was said to have lost a step and to have confused punditry with jurisprudence. He was joined by 69-year-old Ty Cobb, an oddly named, rotund eccentric looking barrister with a handlebar mustache—almost a caricatured contrast with the suave, cool, and much younger Mueller head honcho, Andrew Weissmann.
John Dowd, a 78-year-old lawyer with degrees from Southern Benedictine College and Emory, seemed a slow-talking, septuagenarian who looked and acted his age. Few then imagined Dowd would eventually play something akin to the Wilfred Brimley closer role in Absence of Malice.
Sixty-three-year old TV and radio host Jay Sekulow, a frequent Christian Broadcast Network and Fox News Channel commentator, a Christian convert and Messianic Jew, with degrees from Mercer and Regent universities, and past chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice, rounded out the original team—and, of course, he was snidely ridiculed as a media operator who would be chewed up when he finally went mano-a-mano with Weissmann’s killers. My God, Sekulow (Mercer and Regent) up against Weissmann (Princeton and Columbia)!
The final insult to the swamp was when Trump in autumn 2018 brought in the husband and wife team of Jane and Martin Raskin as replacements and additions. The Washington Post headline could only tsk-tsk: “Trump needed new lawyers for Russia probe. He found them at a tiny Florida firm.” “Found them” and “tiny”?
The media salivated over the supposedly obvious contrasts. The average age of Trump’s original old four-man legal guard of Cobb, Dowd, Giuliani, and Sekulow was 71. Not one had a Yale, Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, or Stanford law degree.
Vox also sniffed of Michael Bowe and Sekulow, “The last two are known more for their time on TV than their time in the courtroom, and don’t have anywhere near the background Mueller’s team boasts to take on this challenge.” Vox apparently saw the fight as a replay of The Verdict, this time with the suave James Mason winning.
In fact, aside from age, looks, and degrees, the outnumbered Trump team was far more experienced than their counterparts, and it was sensitive to the fact that the legal agendas of the Mueller special counsel investigation were little more than pure politics, media hype, leaks, and had little to do with finding out with whom, if any, the Russians had been working to warp an election and sandbag a presidential campaign.
Mueller’s Team of Blunderers
Had the special counsel team been less biased, its lawyers might have discovered within days that the only interventionist foreign national who was actively recruiting Russians as nefarious sources was Christopher Steele, a Clinton operative paid through the firewalls of the DNC, Fusion GPS, and the Perkins Coie law firm to compile a tabloid dossier on Trump, to leak it to old friends and new contacts in the DOJ, FBI, and CIA and thereby to sanctify and disseminate his dirt to the media and tar the Trump campaign—and later an elected president’s transition and administration.
Whereas the Trump team sought to defend their client from charges they knew were false, the Mueller team sought to destroy Trump first, and worry about the evidence later. That proved an enormous disadvantage from the outset. One side saw it as a legal matter of proving an absence of guilt, the other as a political effort to fuel impeachment.
In terms of blunders, they turned out to be all Mueller’s. The Lisa Page-Peter Strozk text trove was an ungodly disaster for Mueller’s team—revealing supposedly professional FBI dreamers of his media-hyped team as adulterous and self-obsessed Washington insiders, with a buffoonish hatred of Trump and schoolyard disdain for his supporters.
That Strozk revealed himself as a blowhard and wannabe in his secret notes to Page was all the more damaging given that he was a sort of swamp FBI everyman. Indeed, Strzok popped up everywhere anything proved suspicious. Strzok convinced Comey to change the wording of his report on Hillary Clinton. Strzok likely initiated the setup of George Papadopoulos. Strozk gave away the game early on with his text to Lisa Page that there was “no big there there.” Strozk interviewed former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and got him to talk without a lawyer. Strozk met with Andrew McCabe to dream up ways of ruining Trump. The most confident and compromised of Mueller’s investigators had always been the most ubiquitous.
That Mueller staggered Page’s and Strzok’s forced departures and never told the media of their unprofessional romantic relationship and embarrassing texts only made “Bob” seem more partisan and less transparent.
Much of the Mueller team had proved indiscreetly partisan before coming aboard in broadcasting their anti-Trump venom. Weissmann had attended a Hillary Clinton “victory” party on Election Night (odd, given the Clinton-bought dossier would become a subtext to his entire investigation) and sent an egotistical email congratulating acting Trump attorney general and former Obama appointee Sally Yates for her stonewalling of a Trump executive order. Was that Ivy League cunning?
No Crime, But Plenty of Innuendo
From the outset Trump’s team was convinced that their client neither had colluded with Russia nor had obstructed an investigation of a crime that did not take place. He had turned over almost everything the all-stars wanted, and freely allowed the White House staff to testify.
From the beginning of the investigations, his lawyers sensed that the Mueller team quickly had concluded there was no crime, but there might be lots of innuendo, rumor, gossip, and Trump antics to be had that could be jammed into their final report and thus provide fodder for impeachment hearings.
When William Barr arrived in February as the new attorney general, replacing the recused Jeff Sessions and the buskin Rod Rosenstein, the Mueller dream team charade finally dissipated. Barr was an old veteran attorney general who did not much care what was said about him, and sensed from the start that Mueller’s team, far from being all-stars, were nothing but rank partisans uninterested in the commission of felonies by an array of Obama officials—deceiving a FISA court, leaking classified memos, lying under oath to congressional committees, and inserting informants into political campaign. Instead, they were obsessed with perjury traps, nutty things like the ossified Logan Act and the Emoluments Clause, and hounding a minor cast of transitory Trump aides.
At about the same time, a similar cultural fantasy was occurring about Representative Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), head of the House Intelligence Committee, whose chairmanship passed to fellow Californian Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) when the Democrats assumed control of the House in January.
Nunes, the scion of Portuguese immigrant dairy farmers from California’s San Joaquin Valley, had first uncovered much of the Obama Administration’s weaponization of the Justice Department, FBI, and CIA and their obsession with destroying Trump through informants, warped FISA writs, unmasking, and leaks to the media of classified documents.
In fact, much of what the country learned from 2017 to 2019 about the various machinations of Glenn Simpson and his Hillary Clinton contracted Fusion GPS skullduggery, the antics of FBI Director James Comey and Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, and the compromised roles of John Brennan and James Clapper was due to Nunes’s relentless digging, supported by a top-notch staff and likewise committed Republican colleagues.
Snobbery and Unmerited Elitism
One would never have known that, however, from the Washington media. They wrote off Nunes from the start as some sort of straw-in-the-mouth hick from Tulare—in obvious contrast to his Democratic better, the haughty Adam Schiff, Harvard Law Graduate and perennial prevaricator who serially hit the CNN and MSNBC circuit to flat out lie that he had the Russian collusion goods on Trump and the walls of indictments and impeachment were closing in each day.
Roll Call’s David Hawkings dismissed Nunes as a bumpkin: “The match between his backstory and his prominence seems wholly incongruous and helps underscore the perception that Nunes is cavalierly playing at a very high-stakes game while in way over his head.” Peter Lance of the Huffington Post sniffed, “There’s certainly nothing in his résumé that would have qualified him for the post.” In the elite world of the Left, “résumés” are everything, past physical hard work and innate intelligence nothing.
MSNBC analyst Elise Jordan also apparently thought farming made Nunes inept: “Why are Republicans trusting Devin Nunes to be their oracle of truth? A former dairy farmer who House Intel staffers refer to as ‘Secret Agent Man,’ because he has no idea what’s going on.” If the media thought Nunes was the out of place oaf Al Czervik, they never caught on that Adam Schiff was “Caddyshack’s” real loser, the smarmy and incompetent Judge Smails.
Snobbery and unmerited elitism characterized the entire collusion hoax and Mueller boondoggle. But being progressive, woke, and highly credentialed is not synonymous either with intelligence or wisdom. Just as Trump nobodies destroyed Mueller’s somebodies, and just as Nunes the farmer outperformed Schiff the Harvard law graduate, so too Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders each day squared off against Jim Acosta and a mediocre Washington press corps.
Journalists and Hollywood has-beens leveled the same old-same old cultural and class invective at Sanders: “Slightly chunky soccer mom,” “Organizes snacks for the kids’ games,” “Fake eyelashes and formal dresses,” “More comfortable in sweats and running shoes,” “To listen to her pronounce ‘priorities’ is akin to hearing the air seep out of a flat tire, and she leaves half of the consonants on the curb,” “She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smokey eye,” and “Maybe we should take her children away and deport her to Arkansas.”
In sum, the comical effort to destroy President Trump was a bad replay of the cultural cluelessness of a haughty Hillary Clinton in the last days of the 2016 campaign—the Ivy League prima donna, ensuring her “landslide” to come by futilely campaigning in Georgia and Arizona, fueled by the “analytics” of her whiz kids, while the orange, combed over, and uncouth Trump at her rear played the fox in her blue-wall henhouse. Was it Ivy League smarts to label roughly one-quarter of the country “deplorables” or to go to West Virginia to tell the impoverished they would have no more coal jobs?
There is always a civilizational elite of sorts, one based on merit, and it is often divorced from its counterfeit counterpart predicated on aristocracy, credentials, titles, and privilege. Real elites from all walks of life are rewarded for their singular achievement not for their empty reputations and media hype.
The last three years have been a painful relearning of that most obvious but forgotten truth that it is what we do rather than who we say we are that truly matters. That the lesson was lost on self-described egalitarians and social justice warriors is the most ironic lesson of all.