We see the familiar cycle of hype, and there’s no use fighting it, but, once heart rates have slowed, the same old question remains: so what? Some of the news, such as a Guardian story that Manafort met three times with Julian Assange, seems to be based on nothing at all. But even the solid news turns out to be generally non-earth-shattering. As the journalist Aaron Maté has been pointing out, we already knew the timeline of Cohen’s Moscow efforts, because BuzzFeed had already detailed them in May, painting a picture of a bumbling duo getting high on their own supply. (As for the latest revelations, did Sater and Cohen really think a president of Russia would move into a free $50 million penthouse provided by a U.S. presidential candidate? You have to wonder if they were hitting each other on the head with bricks.) Those who hope that Mueller reveals a shambolic operation with a lot of rascals engaged in sleazy and embarrassing behavior will be happy with the fruits of his labors. But those who hope for an unveiling of indictments linking Putin and Trump in a grand conspiracy have no more reason to celebrate than they did a week or a month ago.
Certainly, Trump’s ethical standards are low, but if sleaziness were a crime then many more people from our ruling class would be in jail. It is sleazy, but not criminal, to try to find out in advance what WikiLeaks has on Hillary Clinton. It is sleazy, but not criminal, to take a meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer promising a dossier of dirt on Clinton. (Just as, it should be mentioned, it is sleazy, but not criminal, to pay a guy to go to Russia to put together a dossier of dirt on Trump. This is one reason why the Clinton campaign lied about its connection to the Steele dossier, albeit without the disadvantage of being under oath.) It is sleazy, but not criminal, to pursue a business deal while you’re running for president. Mueller has nailed people for trying to prevaricate about their sleaze, so we already have a couple of guilty pleas over perjury, with more believed to be on the way. But the purpose of the investigation was to address suspicions of underlying conspiracy—that is, a plan by Trump staffers to get Russian help on a criminal effort. Despite countless man-hours of digging, this conspiracy theory, the one that’s been paying the bills at Maddow for a couple of years now, has come no closer to being borne out.
Not to pick too many nits, but there are quite a few questions about what's sleazy and what's not. Is it really sleazy to take meeting with people who say they have "dirt" on your political opponent? Do you think that anyone running for public office would say "go away, I don't want to know?" Is it really sleazy to find out what WikiLeaks has on Hillary? Is it sleazy to run your business while also running for office? Feel free to elaborate.