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Some conservatives say the end of the Mueller investigation is the beginning of new investigations — of Democrats

Many Republicans want to move on from the Mueller years. But a faction of the right is talking more investigations (and prison time) for Democrats.

Fox News personalities, including Bret Baier, Martha MacCallum, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, and Sean Hannity, adorn the front of the News Corporation building on March 13, 2019, in New York City.
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Some conservatives believe the end of the Robert Mueller investigation should be the beginning of a new season of investigations — into Democrats and the mainstream media.

In tweets shared over the weekend, Turning Point USA president Charlie Kirk demanded prison time for people involved in the Mueller investigation, while former Bush administration spokesperson Ari Fleischer argued that the Trump administration should now investigate former President Barack Obama. And Fox News’s Sean Hannity railed against the media for being “FAKE NEWS LIARS.”

Overall, Republicans and conservatives celebrated the end of the Mueller investigation as the end of every investigation into Donald Trump. Some were giddy with excitement and lib-owning, cheering on what they viewed as another massive victory for the president over his left-leaning opponents. And others were now celebrating the same special counsel some once argued was hopelessly biased against Trump. Meanwhile, a handful of Trump-skeptical conservatives greeted the news of Mueller’s report with urges for caution — and demands for the full report to be released.

The response from the right is an early indication of what the next two years could have in store as Trump starts campaigning in full for reelection. While many conservatives are thrilled to see the end of a two-year investigation into the president of the United States, others are demanding more investigations.

“People need to go to prison for this”

Robert Mueller was considered persona non grata on the Trump-supportive right for two years. The president called the investigation a “witch hunt” more than 180 times, and even press secretary Sarah Sanders publicly called it a “Russian Witch Hunt Hoax” as recently as November. In December, Trump was tweeting about Mueller’s purported “big time conflicts of interest,” seemingly following the example of some of his biggest supporters, including Hannity, who tweeted about “Mueller and Media working hand in hand” back in October 2017. Far-right sites even demanded Mueller be arrested.

But now that Mueller has seemingly ruled in Trump’s favor, a “strange new respect” has emerged for the special counsel’s investigation.

But while Hannity wants to keep the focus on mainstream media outlets that he thinks got the Mueller story wrong, others, like Kirk and even Sanders, are going even further.

In response to Barr’s letter, Kirk tweeted that “people need to go to prison” because of the Mueller investigation.

I reached out to Kirk’s team and was told that Kirk’s tweets regarding the investigation were based on his belief that the unverified and infamous Steele dossier marked the beginning of the Mueller investigation, a dossier he argues was “manufactured” by a host of figures, including former FBI Director James Comey and Hillary Clinton.

The dossier argument doesn’t add up, as my colleague Aaron Rupar detailed:

The inciting incident, according to Sharon LaFraniere, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo at the New York Times, had to do with WikiLeaks, which published hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) in July 2016. Those emails prompted Australia’s top diplomat in Britain to inform his American counterparts about a conversation he had two months earlier with George Papadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign.

During a night of heavy drinking in London, Papadopoulos bragged to the Australian about his knowledge that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign,” as the Times put it. Papadopoulos has since agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation and was sentenced to just 14 days in jail, even though Mueller’s team in a court filing said he “did not provide ‘substantial assistance.’”

And as Rupar noted, even Republican Rep. Devin Nunes’s infamous “memo” that attempted to argue the DOJ and FBI were hopelessly biased against Trump noted that the investigation into Russian inference in the 2016 presidential election was “triggered” by Papadopoulos, not by the Steele dossier.

But Kirk is hardly alone in demanding new hearings on Democrats they believe were intrinsic to causing the Mueller investigation — without that exactly being the case.

Fleischer joined the call for more investigations, tweeting that “it is time to scrutinize the Obama Administration” for its role in what Fleischer argues were illegal practices aimed at the incoming Trump administration (including the Steele dossier).

And on Monday, Press Secretary Sanders said that Democrats had accused Trump of being “an agent for a foreign government,” the equivalent of treason, and added that treason is punishable by the death penalty.

“It is now time for the country to move forward”

Republicans in Congress used Barr’s letter as a chance to call for unity. Following the release of the letter to Congress, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy released a statement that read in part (bolding not mine):

This should be a lesson to my Democrat colleagues that chasing imagined scandals and following a partisan investigatory agenda will not result in any meaningful change for the country. In fact, it will do the opposite. I understand that Democrats today are struggling with their own deep divisions and that it might be easier to attack President Trump than work together for a common cause. But after months upon months of manufactured outrage on this issue, it is time we move on for the good of the nation and focus on the job we were sent to Washington to do: work to address the real challenges facing our country.

(As the Washington Post’s Dave Weigel pointed out on Twitter, this is somewhat different from how McCarthy reacted to the end of the 2015 Benghazi hearings during which Hillary Clinton was interviewed multiple times, hearings McCarthy deemed successful because Clinton’s polling numbers dropped during that time.)

And Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) chimed in, saying that “it is now time for the country to move forward.”

Of course, not everyone is falling in line. For example, on Monday, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) decried the Mueller investigation for going on “too long” and involving Democrats in the process. (For comparison’s sake, the Mueller investigation lasted 674 days, while the investigation into the Reagan administration’s sale of weapons to Iran with profits going to Nicaraguan rebel groups lasted for 2,420 days.)

Still, the political questions surrounding Trump and the issue of obstruction won’t be going away. As Mueller wrote in his report on the question of obstruction, “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

So while Trump-supportive conservatives are thrilled that the Mueller investigation is over, while largely discounting the many other investigations of Trump, his inauguration and his businesses that are still taking place (or arguing that Trump can stop those investigations entirely), Trump-skeptical conservatives are demanding that the report ultimately be made public. And the political rock fight within the GOP that began not in May 2017, but in June 2015, when Trump declared his run for the presidency, continues apace.