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A $32mn nothingburger: Justice Dept bill comes due for Russiagate costs

A $32mn nothingburger: Justice Dept bill comes due for Russiagate costs
Nearly two years of fruitlessly hunting for collusion between US President Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government cost the country $31.7 million, the Justice Department has revealed.

The cost of special counsel Robert Mueller’s 22-month probe was released in a Justice Department accounting report on Friday. While the last six months of the investigation, which concluded in May with Mueller’s resignation, cost “only” $6.5 million as he began sending prosecutors home and writing up the 448-page report, turning the full force of the country’s investigative apparatus against a president and his campaign isn’t cheap. From May 2017 to September 2018, the special counsel’s office spent $25 million digging for Russian infiltrators in the White House.

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Some $2.4 million of the last phase’s expenses would have been spent anyway on Department salaries, according to the report, but the itemized breakdown provides an interesting window into the bureaucratic swamp that produced the pricey nothingburger. “Transportation of Things” may have cost just $229, but Justice Department employees billed the government for $235,812 to work out of the special counsel’s office instead of their own offices (filed under “Travel and Transportation of Persons”).

While the special counsel investigation infamously turned up no proof of the promised Russian collusion, that did not stop Trump’s political opponents from attempting to reframe the expensive endeavor as a victory – based on the handful of process crimes levied against Trump associates – or a “roadmap to impeachment,” since Mueller did not explicitly say Trump should not be prosecuted and outlined 10 potential scenarios of obstruction of justice.

Adding insult to injury, several key “facts” in the report have already been proven wrong or misleading, such as the identity of Konstantin Kilimnik, who Mueller described as having links to Russian intelligence but who was actually a US State Department asset. And last month, a federal judge found that Mueller had utterly failed to prove that the company running the “troll farm” that supposedly committed “sweeping and systematic” interference in US elections on behalf of the Russian government had any government connections at all.

The near-$32 million number does not include the cost of countless hours of productive governing lost instead to fearmongering that the president was controlled by Russia, or account for the alarming deterioration of the relationship between Washington and Moscow due to the popular belief that Vladimir Putin was responsible for Trump’s election. Nor does it take into account the billions of dollars wasted beefing up the US’ anti-Russia military apparatus accordingly, tearing up weapons treaties, and other belligerent posturing Trump feels he needs to look tough on Russia lest he be perceived as somehow compromised (and potentially subject to more investigation).

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While Mueller’s lackluster showing during last month’s congressional hearing appears to have quelled the fires of Russiagate conspiracy theorizing by the #Resistance for now, it has failed to banish the conveniently "malignant" specter of Russia hanging over American politics. House Democrats are still clamoring for impeachment, the media is still blaming the success of candidates it doesn’t like on Russian bots, and Republican politicians are still being smeared as Russian collaborators without a sliver of evidence.

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