I learned the hard way that predictions are perilous in the current age: I literally ate a column asserting that Republicans would never nominate Donald Trump for president.
So please forgive this victory lap as I claim total EXONERATION(!) by the Mueller report for my forecast in November 2017 that the president and his aides might be saved by their own stupidity:
“With all the documentation of Russian collusion piling up, President Trump’s best excuse may be that his people were too incompetent to organize a conspiracy. Luckily for him, an innocent-by-reason-of-stupidity defense has the virtue of being plausible. For example, there is clear and compelling evidence that Donald Trump Jr. is dumb as a post.”
This was essentially Robert Mueller’s conclusion as he recounted the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting, for which Russian interests promised “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary” Clinton, and Trump Jr. replied “if it’s what you say I love it.”
Prosecutors “considered whether to charge Trump Campaign officials with crimes in connection with the June 9 meeting,” Mueller wrote, but couldn’t “prove beyond a reasonable doubt that these individuals acted ‘willfully,’ i.e., with general knowledge of the illegality of their conduct.” Specifically, prosecutors couldn’t prove “the participants in the meeting were familiar with the foreign-contribution ban or the application of federal law to the relevant factual context.”
Apparently unaware that this meant he isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, Trump Jr. welcomed Mueller’s findings Thursday as vindication. “TOLD YA!!!” he boasted.
Who says ignorance of the law is no excuse?
Mueller’s findings on obstruction were similar: Not guilty by reason of incompetence. “The President’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller concluded, listing former FBI director James Comey, former White House counsel Donald McGahn and former White House deputy chief of staff Rick Dearborn.
After two years of investigation, Mueller’s findings about Team Trump can be roughly summarized as follows: Too stupid to conspire. Too incompetent to obstruct.
These findings are entirely consistent with what I’ve found covering the Trump campaign and administration. I’d submit only one addendum: Too dumb to govern.
Many Democrats are disappointed Mueller opted against charging Trump and top aides. But Mueller captured the essence of Trump. Some of Trump’s actions are hateful, some are ideological and some stretch the bounds of constitutionality. But above all, Trump is bumbling.
Federal judges have ruled against the Trump administration at least 63 times so far, an “extraordinary record of legal defeat,” The Washington Post reported last month.
Trump routinely proposes illegal actions to top aides — the secretary of state, the secretary of homeland security, the White House counsel, Pentagon officials — and they ignore him. Though Trump claimed Monday that “nobody disobeys my orders,” The Post’s Aaron Blake assembled a list of 15 instances of aides doing just that.
His advisers quit and are fired at a record pace, leaving vacancies, placeholders and semi-functioning agencies.
He flopped in repealing Obamacare and botched implementation of his travel ban and his family-separation policies.
He shut the government down in fruitless pursuit of a border wall and managed to help create a crisis on the border where none had existed before.
He spews falsehoods by the thousand and announces policies that don’t exist.
Now Mueller has documented more of the same. Trump’s campaign was happy to accept help in the election from Russia but didn’t pull it off. Trump wanted to obstruct the investigation but was thwarted by aides. And the man who claimed he had “one of the best memories in the world” said more than three dozen times in response to Mueller’s questions that he couldn’t recall the answer.
The president, perhaps sensing that “too dumb to fail” isn’t a good re-election slogan, went from claiming “total EXONERATION” before the report came out to “total bullshit” after.
And Trump’s error-prone lawyer Rudy Giuliani proclaimed on Sunday that “there’s nothing wrong with taking information from Russians;” exactly the wrong lesson of the past two years.
Does incompetence fit the definition of high crimes and misdemeanors? That’s up to the House. I, for one, celebrate Trump’s clumsiness. His fondness for authoritarianism and his disdain for the free press and the rule of law would be much more worrisome if he were effective. Trump, with his “enemy of the people” shtick, might talk like Joseph Stalin, but — fortunately — he governs more like Homer Simpson.
Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter @Milbank.