It is worth rejoicing at Robert Mueller’s exoneration of the president, even if you do not like Donald Trump. Wherever possible, politics should not be pursued via legal processes and investigations. This sounds an odd thing to say, since democracies depend upon the rule of law. The trouble is that the rule of law quickly gets hijacked when one political grouping tries to arraign another. Motives become suspect.
I learnt this myself at the time of the attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton. I was editing the Telegraph, and, thanks to the great Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, we had actually been ahead of the US media in revealing the murky stories of Clinton which had originated in the great state of Arkansas. So when Monica Lewinsky came along, we pressed hard for Clinton to be investigated. Our proprietor, Conrad Black, rang me. Although he was a staunch supporter of the Republicans, he argued that impeachment of Clinton would be a great mistake. People were always trying to destroy US presidents, and quite often did uncover scandals. But to invoke the mighty machinery of the constitution to pursue these grievances was bad for the office of the presidency, and therefore the United States.
Conrad’s intervention irritated me at the time, as proprietors usually do when they make political suggestions to their editors, but I came to think he was right. In 99 percent of cases, the best way to bring down a political leader is at the ballot box. Did Watergate really help anything much, except by making it much more likely that Ronald Reagan would ultimately become president? Would Britain feel better as a nation if Tony Blair had been tried for war crimes against Iraq? Just now, I’d like to arrest Philip Hammond and his gang for treason over Brexit, but these are base impulses which one should try to restrain. As a result of Mueller, the Democrats are looking the wrong way for the next election, and Donald Trump is more secure than if the investigation had never started.
This article was originally published in The Spectator magazine.