The end of Robert Mueller’s probe marks a new phase of Donald Trump’s presidency. It also marks a new phase for the small group of citizen journalists, Twitter thread-spinners and stunt artists who rose to prominence on the back of investigation.
After devoting much of their waking lives to the investigation over the last two years, they are taking its anticlimactic demise with surprising poise. You might say that for the Mueller probe’s biggest fans, it’s not just about the number of indictments—it’s about the friends they made along the way.
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Jeff Jetton, the owner of a ramen shop along Washington, D.C.’s gentrifying H Street corridor who has entangled himself in the web of journalists, hustlers and lawyers surrounding the probe, knows this well.
Jetton came to Washington’s notice in early 2017 when he scored a number of interviews with key Trump-Russia figures including former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page and suspected Steele dossier source Sergei Millian for Brightest Young Things, a Washington-based marketing collective.
Jetton, who also performed public anti-Kremlin stunts and made a habit of hectoring Trump’s aides about Russia in out-of-the-blue emails on which he often copied half the Washington press corps, has made nice with many of the targets of his scrutiny.
“I still talk to Sergei Millian all the time,” he said.
Jetton is planning to spend Friday night in Hell’s Kitchen taking in a concert for the trippy Russian band Little Big alongside a new pal, Felix Sater.
“Jeff is one of the nicest people I know, and I always enjoy spending time with him,” said Sater, the international man of intrigue who sits at the center of many of Trump’s ties to the former Soviet Union.
Even before the probe’s end, Jetton, 43, had already begun moving on, taking a job at the New York marketing firm R/GA. In September, married a Russian woman, complicating his Trump-Russia activism.
“I can’t be out there putting dildos on things dressed as Vladimir Putin anymore, because that could have implications for her and her family,”said Jetton, who generated media attention in July when he set a shirtless Putin mannequin astride Wall Street’s iconic bull and covered the monument in a colorful array of synthetic penises.
“I don’t see this as the end of anything. I see it as maybe the beginning. Maybe one chapter closing,” he said. “Donald Trump Jr.’s still going to be an asshole.”
For Seth Abramson, a professor at the University of New Hampshire who authored voluminous viral Twitter threads about Russian collusion, the probe’s conclusion does not even close a chapter, let alone a paragraph. “At most it’s going to be an em dash in the middle of a sentence,” said Abramson, who, as a poet and author in his offline life, should know.
For Abramson and others who have immersed themselves in the drama of the probe, the events of the weekend only shift the action to new settings.
“The Mueller investigation is not something that will conclude in the way that we think of investigations concluding,” Abramson said. “It will simply transform.”
Others view the Trump-Russia affair less as a story than as a part of a collective national journey. “The Mueller report is just one more roadmark on that very long highway,” said Claude Taylor, a former director of volunteers in Bill Clinton’s White House who has made it his mission to draw attention to Trump’s Russia links on Twitter and in real life.
That highway has already taken Taylor, 55, all over the country, where he has channeled anti-Trump energy on Twitter into real-life activism on land and on sea.
In 2016, Taylor closed up his Washington photo gallery and devoted more time to assailing Trump on social media with a focus on his Russia ties. Eventually he set up Mad Dog PAC to fund his activism, including purchasing billboards around the country that linked Republican politicians to Russia.
One of his most treasured memories involved renting a 30-foot motorboat, loading it with a large inflatable rat bearing Trump’s face and, “with the help of a local skipper,” navigating it up to a sea wall at the edge of Mar-a-Lago.
The hobby brought him into contact with former UK parliamentarian Louise Mensch, and the pair authored widely read articles claiming that Trump was the subject of a sealed indictment and under investigation for sex trafficking.
It turned out the pair had fallen for a hoax and none of that was true. “In terms of all the stories that have been produced about Trump and Trump-Russia,” Taylor said, “we’ll all have a good sense in the individual fullness of time of how our individual records stand up.”
Despite that hiccup, the friendship formed over their sleuthing has stood up firmly. “I remain very, very fond of her,” Taylor said of Mensch.
Mensch has perhaps gained more notoriety from the Trump-Russia affair than anybody else who was not a direct party to it. After laying out her views of the matter in the New York Times op-ed section, she memorably claimed that prosecutors were considering executing former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon for treason and that U.S. marshals had forcibly removed Trump’s first chief of staff, Reince Priebus, from Saudi Arabia, among other wild allegations.
Reached on Twitter, Mensch asked that an interview request be sent via email, but did not respond to emailed interview requests. Fortunately, she has made her views known on her blog.
For her, the formal end of Mueller’s probe is more like a technicality.
In Mensch’s unorthodox reading of Attorney General Bill Barr’s summary of the investigation, Barr actually confirms that many of Trump’s confederates are well on their way to being convicted of collusion-related crimes.
In her view, it is the president’s associates who will have the hardest transition of anyone to life after Mueller.
“The loathsome batch of traitors who are laughing tonight,” she wrote on Sunday, “will be crying tomorrow. Or on one tomorrow in the very near future.”