President Donald Trump spent the last 18-plus months attacking the investigation into Russian interference and the possibility of collusion between his campaign and the Russians. On Sunday, that same investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, gave Trump something he wanted – and needed badly: A dismissal on the question of collusion and no charges of obstruction against either the President or his team.
“The special counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election,” read a summary of Mueller’s conclusions by Attorney General William Barr sent to Congress on Sunday afternoon.
On the question of obstruction, Mueller, according to Barr, was less conclusive. While he said there was not enough evidence to say that Trump committed a crime by seeking to slow or end the Mueller investigation, he also didn’t provide Trump the full clearance the President and his inner circle likely wanted. “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Barr wrote, quoting Mueller.
Still, taken in the main, the conclusions of Mueller’s report – via Barr – are a huge gift to a President who has spent 85% of his time in office with the Mueller probe hanging over his head. Trump had spent the better part of the past 22 months – since the inception of the Mueller probe at the behest of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein – seeking to undermine confidence not only in the report but also in Mueller (and his team).
Trump called the probe a “witch hunt” more than 170 times, according to statistics maintained by CNN’s own Marshall Cohen. He tried to raise questions about the political motivations of Mueller, a lifelong Republican, and his investigators – some of whom made contributions to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and other Democrats. Trump even went as far as to say the investigation was illegal (it wasn’t).
Given the level of vitriol Trump – and his lead attack dog and lawyer Rudy Giuliani – leveled at Mueller and the broader report, the President finds himself in an odd situation: The investigation that he spent so much time undermining has now turned out a result that is broadly favorable to him.
In characteristic Trumpian fashion, he took to Twitter to overstate what Mueller had found. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Trump tweeted. (Reminder: Barr, quoting Mueller, said that the report “does not exonerate” Trump.)
Trump’s exaggeration aside, the general strokes of the Mueller report should work – and work strongly – in Trump’s favor. While he is not exonerated – in his words – by Mueller, the key conclusion of the report is that there was no collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians.
That, amazingly, is a somewhat stunning conclusion given that so many people in Trump’s orbit – and his campaign – not only had considerable interactions with Russians but also, in several cases, lied about it. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, Paul Manafort, Trump’s campaign chairman and Rick Gates, Trump’s deputy campaign chair, all admitted to lying to the special counsel’s office about the depth and breadth of their interactions with the Russians.
Through it all, Trump chanted, relentlessly, “No collusion.” And, that, on Sunday, was proven correct. Which Trump will be able to repeat, again, endlessly, from now through the 2020 election.
“So after a long look, after a long investigation, after so many people have been so badly hurt, after not looking at the other side, where a lot of bad things happened, a lot of horrible things happened, a lot of bad things happened for our country, it was just announced there was no collusion with Russia, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard,” Trump told reporters prior to boarding Air Force One on his way back to Washington from Florida.
He added, “It’s a shame that our country had to go through with this, to be honest, it’s a shame that your President has had to go through this. Before I even got elected it began.”
There’s no doubt that, despite Trump’s oversimplifications, House Democrats will push hard on the question of obstruction – among other things.
“In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future,” tweeted House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) shortly after the Barr letter hit Capitol Hill.
The back-and-forth over obstruction is likely to be at the forefront of battle between Congress and the White House over the next 20 months. But, even in that, Trump got a boost from the Mueller report as summarized to lawmakers by Barr. The Justice Department’s established policy against indicting a sitting president was not part of the decision not to charge him, according to Barr and Mueller.
“In cataloging the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense,” wrote Barr.
That isn’t conclusive, of course. But it does provide an effective pushback against attacks that Barr simply blocked an obstruction charge.
Taken as a whole then, the Mueller report, which has hung over Trump’s administration like a dark cloud promising rain for 22 months, did the opposite of what many people expected: It provides Trump with a neutral – and credible – source that, largely validates the mantra of his presidency: No collusion.