With the help of many Democrats in Congress, Trump kept the focus on “collusion” even as Mueller’s investigation expanded into Russian interference in the election and obstruction of justice and House Democrats launched a litany of other probes.
And now, the president’s allies eager to use Mueller’s conclusion on collusion as evidence of vindication for their two-year-long defense: that the media and Democrats unfairly went after the president, his family, his campaign, and businesses. As Democrats point to the obstruction of justice part of Mueller’s report that isn’t as favorable to the president, Trump’s allies are already warning that their political enemies will continue to go after them, despite, as they claimed in the case of Russian collusion, no wrongdoing on their part.
The president’s supporters went as far as to say that Attorney General Bill Barr’s letter to Congress summarizing Mueller’s findings could actually boost Trump’s chances of winning reelection, even as other investigations remain open. “‘We can’t vote for this guy because of an open court case in New York’ doesn’t have the same ring to it as, ‘He’s in the pocket of Putin’ does,” said one former White House official.
Although the investigation, according to Barr’s letter, did not find evidence of collusion, Mueller was more open-ended on the second part of the investigation: obstruction of justice. “…[W]hile this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The special counsel presented the facts his office gathered on obstruction and left a decision up to Barr, who along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
In a joint statement, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer raised concerns about Barr’s neutrality in making that judgement. “Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” they said in the statement.
Trump, though, claimed “complete and total exoneration” in the investigation, talking to reporters before boarding Air Force One on his way back to Washington from West Palm Beach. “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this,” he said. “To be honest it’s a shame that your president had to go through this.”
The president also called for an investigation into the investigators, as his son and several supporters demanded apologies from Democrats and journalists who they think kickstarted the two-year long investigation.
“After nearly two years of non-stop conspiracy theories…as well as daily lies and smears coming from Democrats in Washington, the Mueller Report proves what those of us with sane minds have known all along, that there was ZERO collusion with Russia,” said Donald Trump Jr. in a statement.
Bryan Lanza, who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign, told BuzzFeed News: “The past two years we’ve heard everybody tell us that Donald Trump committed all these crimes..turns out the fraud was actually committed by the media. When are they going to apologize?”
Trump supporters described Democrats’ focus on obstruction of justice as an attempt to “muddy the waters.” One former White House official admitted there could be some danger “in the details of the obstruction,” but added that those details will become irrelevant, given the focus has always been on collusion.
“Democrats set the bar at full collusion, so I think they’re going to get very little mileage out of this report,” the official said.
Trump supporters were quick to point to the role Democrats played in keeping the nation’s attention on Mueller’s investigation. The Republican National Committee shared quotes from different Democrats claiming “evidence of collusion” in the last two years minutes after Barr’s letter was made public, and Trump’s reelection campaign released a video showing how Democrats “hyped collusion.”
“Democrats took us on a frantic, chaotic, conspiracy-laden roller coaster for two years, alleging wrongdoing where there was none,” said Trump campaign manager Brad Parsacale in a statement. “So distraught and blindsided by the results of the 2016 elections, Democrats lied to the American people continually, hoping to undo the legitimate election of President Trump.”
Parscale also dismissed the case Mueller made on obstruction of justice as part of Democrats “dirty tricks” against the president. “Even today Democrats have picked up the disgraceful mantle of investigating, obstructing, and destroying the will of the American people at any cost,” he said. “They failed once and they will fail again.”
The investigation did still result in indictments against 34 individuals, including Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman and Michael Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s national security adviser.
Still, for those in Trump’s orbit, the Barr letter gave them enough reasons to gloat. The former White House official texted BuzzFeed News a gif of Danny McBride on the HBO show “Eastbound and Down,” running up to the baseball field wrapped in an American flag, giving everyone the middle finger, as fireworks shoot around him.
And a source close to the administration said: “I just don’t know how you can read that four-page letter and not think this is a ridiculous win for Trump. Democrats have been screaming collusion for two years. At the end of the day, Trump is going to take the biggest victory lap in history and he deserves to.”