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Bill Straub: Certainly no witch hunt as Mueller moves right along; and a word about ‘great guy’ Art Schmidt

With the November election now less than two months away, Republicans are ratcheting up their calls for a quick and painless end to the investigation being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s apparent maneuvering in the 2016 presidential election that resulted in, and it hurts to say, “President’’ Donald J. Trump (good Lord in heaven).

The probe, entering its 15th month, has gone on too long, GOP lawmakers complain seemingly on cue, and it’s time for the government to move on from the ongoing Mueller distraction and get down to the real work of destroying Social Security and Medicaid.

Most of Kentucky’s six House members, the exception being Rep. John Yarmuth, of Louisville, the lone Democrat, are reasonably concerned the investigation may ultimately lope into sensitive territory that could change the current Congressional alignment that favors the GOP.

John Yarmuth

Mueller could, for instance, conclude that the Trump campaign worked or attempted to work in concert with the Kremlin to grease the path for Trump’s upset victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton. The question then becomes, as the late Sen. Howard Baker, R-TN, asserted during the Watergate hearings of the 1970s that ultimately led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon – “What did the president know and when did he know it.’’

Now, to hear Trump tell it he is as pure as the driven snow and insists there was “NO COLLUSION’’ to quote any number of his all-caps juvenile tweets. But this is a guy who lies so much that there exists real concern that he no longer realizes when he’s telling the truth – infrequently at best – or unleashing one of the outrageous whoppers for which he has become infamous.

The president has also displayed a propensity for attempting to finagle in the inner workings of the Justice Department, the agency overseeing the probe, with an eye toward converting it into his own, personal Inquisition tribunal. Just this week, for instance, he complained bitterly that his two earliest congressional supporters – Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA and Rep. Chris Collins, R-NY – faced federal indictments “just ahead of the Mid-Terms, by the (Attorney General) Jeff Sessions Justice Department.”

“Two easy wins now in doubt because there is not enough time,’’ he tweeted. “Good job Jeff…”, making it clear he wants DOJ to lay off his pals.

Regardless, some of the Trumpster’s best defenders come from the representatives of the Bluegrass State.

James Comer and President Trump (Photo from Comer’s website)

“There’s no evidence of wrong-doing by the president,” said Rep. James Comer, R-Tompkinsville, a dull light in the collection of five-watt bulbs in the Kentucky delegation, in an interview with WBKO-TV in Bowling Green. “There’s no evidence of collusion. The whole investigation was about collusion with Russia. This investigation’s been going on for over a year. I have yet to see any evidence that shows President Trump did anything wrong.’’

Comer, like many other Republicans, whined that the investigation has “gone on too long. They need to wrap it up. And if they have any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump, they need to bring it forward. Everything else to me is just kind of a sideshow.”

Rep. Thomas Massie, R-SomewhereorotherLewisCounty, has also joined in, of course, The Wonder Boy penned an op-ed last month in which he maintained, “Unfortunately, what began as only Russophobic rhetoric seems to have turned into a witch hunt, as President Trump calls it.’’

And Sen. Rand Paul, R-Bowling Green, scared to death of being ignored, joined Massie in calling the investigation “a witch hunt’’ on Fox News.

“We never should have had Mueller in the first place because we’ve given too much power to a prosecutor who’s no longer looking at Russia, he’s looking at some kind of personal dealings with the president’s lawyer,” Paul said.

The problem here is ignorance, a characteristic all too frequently displayed within the delegation. In this instance, it refers to a distinct lack of knowledge about the inner workings of the probe itself.

Despite what individuals may think about Mueller or the investigation, no one really knows what the agents have uncovered to this point. Unlike many official inquiries that tend to leak like a sieve, often for political effect – the one involving former President Bill Clinton and his tete-a-tete with Monica Lewinsky certainly comes to mind – Mueller has played this one extremely close to the vest.

The only thing the public knows about the goings-on is the result of the indictments and guilty pleas that have been obtained.

Comer’s theory, which basically asserts that there hasn’t been any evidence made public pitting the Trumpster colluding with the Russians, ergo he hasn’t done anything wrong, is a fallacy and intentionally misleading.

Jared Kushner (Wikipedia)

What is known, and it didn’t come from the special counsel’s office, is that representatives of Trump’s campaign organization, including Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, who is the president’s son-in-law, and Paul Manafort, the one-time campaign chairman who was recently convicted on federal fraud charges stemming from evidence uncovered by the investigation, met with individuals connected to the Russians at the Trump Tower in New York on June 9, 2016.

Trump Jr. subsequently acknowledged he was informed the Russian government was involved in arranging the face-to-face, that the purpose was to get “dirt on Clinton” and that the meeting concerned a “Russian effort to aid (the Trump) campaign.”

That should prove sufficient to permit the investigation to at least continue undisturbed GOP operatives scared that it might upend their majorities in either chamber and even threaten Trump’s continued residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Trump maintains he wasn’t aware of the meeting. Of course, the president says a lot of things. It may transpire that Mueller and his team concludes the president is dirty in all this and should be held responsible. They might just as easily conclude he is an innocent waif who remained completely in the dark in the goings-on in his own campaign.

This, in essence, is why law enforcement and prosecutors conduct investigations – to get at the truth. Setting an arbitrary deadline before all the evidence is gathered, as suggested by Comer, is ludicrous. It would be like telling Treasury agents to leave Al Capone alone before they received his tax returns.

And a 15-month probe isn’t that lengthy in these situations. An independent counsel began looking into allegations that Henry Cisneros, secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development under Clinton, lied to the FBI about payments made to a former mistress, lasted more than 10 years with murky results.

And a witch hunt? Mueller has obtained six guilty pleas, including one from Michael Cohen, who served as Trump’s lawyer and fixer, for campaign finance violations, insisting that the dirty work was done at the president’s direction, raising speculation that the Trumpster could be an unindicted co-conspirator.

Witch hunt? Pretty soon it appears Mueller will have collected an entire coven.

A brief pause to remember Art Schmidt, a truly great guy

Very sorry to note the passing of Art Schmidt, one of the greats who helped transform Northern Kentucky from the Commonwealth’s red-headed stepchild to a booming region that makes much of the rest of the state jealous.

Art Schmidt and his signature smile.

And it wasn’t easy. As a Republican, Art could have easily been ignored by Democrats who held sway during his time in Frankfort, first as a state representative from Cold Spring from 1968 to 1982 and then as a state senator until retiring in 1992. But Art was recognized by one and all is a decent human being who was trying his best to bring along the region he represented. Working with fellow Republican Senator Clyde Middleton, of Fort Mitchell, and Democrat Joe Meyer, of Covington, now the mayor of his hometown, Art helped build what is now modern-day Northern Kentucky.

Art will be remembered for a lot of things, including working to build what is now Northern Kentucky University. But most people will simply tell you he was a great guy, smart with a terrific sense of humor who was diligent in his job. Smart and always smiling, his passing is a sad occasion.

KyForward’s Washington columnist Bill Straub served 11 years as the Frankfort Bureau chief for The Kentucky Post. He also is the former White House/political correspondent for Scripps Howard News Service. A member of the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame, he currently resides in Silver Spring, Maryland, and writes frequently about the federal government and politics. Email him at williamgstraub@gmail.com.

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