WASHINGTON — "Rectitude" is not the word that comes to mind in these troubled times, as the capital churns. It sounds like a word the Puritans shipped over the ocean to the New World.
While it's fallen out of fashion, one 74-year-old lawyer embodies upright honor. There is no finer name in federal law enforcement than Robert S. Mueller III, always with the starched white Oxford shirt at work. He cuts a tall, trim figure, and has ever since his prep school varsity days. Then he went on to Princeton and the Marine Corps, which drilled him into a decorated Vietnam War hero (yes, the perfect opposite of tawdry Donald Trump).
And you're thinking: They still make them like that?
The last of the strong, silent type cuts a swath in a sea of chatter — and may hold President Trump's fate in his hands. Many think they know Mueller, but few do. He lives in black and white. But gray shades his findings on the Trump campaign's possible obstruction of justice. What an enigma.
Mueller led the FBI for a dozen years, taking the job in the most brutal building days before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Now famously, Mueller is the Justice Department's special counsel for the Russian-collusion investigation, but he may not be for long. He's kept his counsel, so to speak, after issuing a 448-page report that reads like a Russian novel of misdeeds by the man running for president and his men.
The latest question: Will Mueller come to the House to testify, as requested, on May 15? Not if Trump can bar it, with his openly complicit attorney general.
The case is not closed until we the people hear Mueller speak.
"High Crimes and Misdemeanors" could be the Hollywood script's working title. Nearly 500 former federal prosecutors signed a statement saying the report would have resulted in obstruction charges against President Trump — "if not for the office he holds," The Washington Post reported. That's open and shut, but Mueller takes the rule of law seriously. The government edict is that sitting presidents can't be indicted.
So Mueller trusted critical conclusions to Attorney General William Barr, who suppressed the substance of Mueller's report for three weeks. He proved an unreliable narrator at best, and a false friend.
Since Mueller decided not to decide whether Trump obstructed justice, that gave the president an opening to gloat — falsely — that the report cleared him.
Mueller, a Republican, remains the last best hope of Democrats for laying out the case, a legal litany of Trump's unscrupulous actions and associates. Three close advisors — Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn and Michael Cohen — pleaded guilty. Two are in federal prison.
Trump never uttered a word of shame about payoffs to a woman who works in porn and a Playboy model, nor about Justice Department warnings to the White House that Flynn, his first national security adviser, could be blackmailed by the Russians.
In a real-life epic looking for a hero, Mueller was cast as one. But heroes have flaws. The silent action hero voice must be heard.
"Restraint" is another watchword for Mueller, so stopping short is in character. He never ran for office. He ran a tight staff ship with no leaks for two years. His crisply tailored work investigating Trump's ties with Russia may still be the smoking guns of impeachment. That's the hope — or fear.
We are at a fever pitch, wishing Mueller could cure what ails our body politic. A sighting of Mueller out dining with his wife, Ann Cabell Standish, or at St. John's Episcopal Church, passes for buzz.
The couple fell for each other in high school. That made me wonder: Is the Miss Porter's School graduate descended from Myles Standish? In one of those things, Standish was a defender of the Mayflower Pilgrims, a keeper of order in their colony.
Robert Mueller III is living proof that the old American establishment virtues are not dead. In my eyes, the donnybrook before us is not only between Congress and the presidency. Call it a mighty struggle of straight and narrow vs. corrupt and crooked codes of government.
Mueller is, in a word, unimpeachable.
To find out more about Jamie Stiehm and other Creators Syndicate columnists and cartoonists, please visit the website Creators.com