For much of the past 22 months, Democrats waited with bated breath to see what special counsel Robert Mueller had found out about Russian interference in the 2016 election and the possibility that either Donald Trump or someone(s) close to him colluded with the Russians to help him win the election.
On Sunday night, those expectations were dashed.
Mueller’s report, as summarized by Attorney General William Barr, made clear that he had not established any collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. On the question of whether Trump obstructed the investigation, Mueller was less definitive – offering no conclusion. But, Barr said that he had declined to prosecute Trump for obstruction.
Which, well, scene, right? Or not?
That’s the question facing Democrats from Capitol Hill to the 2020 campaign trail today as they begin to recalculate their political strategy following Mueller’s less-than-expected report (or at least Barr;’s summary of Mueller’s report.)
There are some within the party who believe plenty of fertile political ground lies in front of them by pushing on the investigations in Trump, his administration, his business interests, his charity and his presidential transition effort. And that while Mueller may have cleared Trump on collusion, he quite notably did not grant the president exoneration on obstruction – and that should give the party a blueprint of how to carry this fight forward.
“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.) on Sunday night.
While Nadler is far from a lone voice within the party when it comes to continuing the investigations into Trump, some dissenting opinions were already being voiced Monday by the party’s consultant class.
One Democratic pollster sent me an exchange between Ulysses Grant and William Tecumseh Sherman after the 1st day of the battle of Shiloh to explain his view on Mueller.
“Well, Grant, we’ve had the devil’s own day, haven’t we?” Sherman reportedly said. “Yes, lick ‘em tomorrow, though,” replied Grant.
Said the pollster: “We need to focus on licking President Trump in 2020. That should ALWAYS be the goal.”
At issue is whether “licking” Trump is best done by continuing to aggressively use Congress’ oversight powers to investigate the administration – including on Russia issues or to move on to make a broader case that Trump’s policies, whether on the economy, trade, immigration etc., have been bad for the average American?
And Democrats are, at least at the moment, legitimately divided on the answer to that question.
The Point: Mueller’s findings take away the possibility that beating Trump will be a slam dunk, and raise the stakes on how best for Democrats to approach the campaign to come against the incumbent president.