Details of the two-year investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller have been released: Mueller found no evidence of Trump-Russia conspiracy but stopped short of exonerating Trump on obstruction allegations. Trump has now called it a complete and total vindication.
The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found that neither President Trump nor any of his aides conspired or coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s key findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General William P. Barr.
Mr. Barr also said that Mr. Mueller’s team drew no conclusions about whether Mr. Trump illegally obstructed justice. Mr. Barr and the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, determined that the special counsel’s investigators lacked sufficient evidence to establish that Mr. Trump committed that offense, but added that Mr. Mueller’s team stopped short of exonerating Mr. Trump.
“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mr. Barr quoted Mr. Mueller as writing.
The findings delivered a significant political victory for the president, one he almost immediately began to trumpet.
“It was a complete and total exoneration,” Mr. Trump told reporters in Florida before boarding Air Force One. “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”
He added, “This was an illegal takedown that failed.”
Mr. Barr delivered the summary of the special counsel’s finding to Congress on Sunday afternoon, just days after the conclusion of a sprawling investigation into Russia’s attempts to sabotage the 2016 election and whether President Trump or any of his associates conspired with Moscow’s interference.
Good news, America. Russia helped install your president. But although he owes his job in large part to that help, the president did not conspire or collude with his helpers. He was the beneficiary of a foreign intelligence operation, but not an active participant in that operation. He received the stolen goods, but he did not conspire with the thieves in advance.
This is what Donald Trump’s administration and its enablers in Congress and the media are already calling exoneration. But it offers no reassurance to Americans who cherish the independence and integrity of their political process.
The question unanswered by the attorney general’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is: Why? Russian President Vladimir Putin took an extreme risk by interfering in the 2016 election as he did. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency—the most likely outcome—Russia would have been exposed to fierce retaliation by a powerful adversary. The prize of a Trump presidency must have glittered alluringly, indeed, to Putin and his associates. Why?
Did they admire Trump’s anti-NATO, anti–European Union, anti-ally, pro–Bashar al-Assad, pro-Putin ideology?
Were they attracted by his contempt for the rule of law and dislike of democracy?
Did they hold compromising information about him, financial or otherwise?
Were there business dealings in the past, present, or future?
Or were they simply attracted by Trump’s general ignorance and incompetence, seeing him as a kind of wrecking ball to be smashed into the U.S. government and U.S. foreign policy?
Many public-spirited people have counted on Mueller to investigate these questions, too, along with the narrowly criminal questions in his assignment. Perhaps he did, perhaps he did not; we will know soon, either way. But those questions have always been the important topics.
The Trump presidency from the start has presented a national-security challenge first, a challenge to U.S. public integrity next. But in this hyper-legalistic society, those vital inquiries got diverted early into a law-enforcement matter. That was always a mistake, as I’ve been arguing for two years.
Now the job returns to the place it has always belonged and never should have left: Congress.
And the likelihood of Congress getting more facts or acting in unison, regardless of what the facts show?
Former President Clinton pollster Douglas E. Schoen writes in The Hill that this could be a politically perilous moment for the Democrats, who could wind up helping Trump win re-election:
…if House Democrats somehow feel emboldened to take up new investigations now that the Mueller probe is complete, there is real concern that their continual pursuit of the president will look like overreach to many Americans.
To be sure, this would be viewed negatively by the many moderate and suburban voters who swung the House to the Democrats in November’s midterm elections.
A useful example to consider would be how the Republicans overreached and persistently pursued investigations of former President Clinton in 1998, after the Starr report had been completed.
The zealous Republican overreach at that time, continuing to pursue a president who already had been acquitted in congressional impeachment proceedings, led to remarkable Democratic victories in the subsequent 1998 midterms.
In fact, because of the Republicans’ partisan agenda against Clinton in 1998, that year’s midterms became the second time in U.S. history, since the Civil War, that a president’s party actually gained seats in a midterm election and actually disrupted the historic trend of voters getting a “six-year itch” against a sitting two-term president.
Today’s Democrats must take note that, throughout the two-year Mueller probe, the Department of Justice did not find any instances in which the investigation “was so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.”
Put another way, Mueller was given all of the latitude he needed to complete a thorough and comprehensive report that answered all questions of potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
Despite the obvious temptation to continue investigating Trump, based on political differences and an intense dislike of him as an individual, the Democrats must put this issue to bed. The Mueller investigation is over, and the president will not be indicted.
If Democrats continue to look backward at the 2016 election and cry foul, it will seriously hurt their electability in 2020 and create the conditions for Trump’s reelection.
A cross-section of Twitter:
Will the Russians interpret this as a green light to interfere with the 2020 elections, as they did in 2016? How about other bad actors besides Russia? How hard will the U.S. (meaning the Trump Administration) try to stop them? #MuellerReport
— Larry Sabato (@LarrySabato) March 24, 2019
Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?
Bluto knew. So does @RepAdamSchiff.
Dems taking the House in NOV means this is far from over. The fight's just been kicked to the Hill now.
But Trump clearly knew what he was doing when he appointed Barr AG.
— John Schindler (@20committee) March 24, 2019
#Barr makes the case that, per evidence & #DOJ policy, no prosecution is the right call. But this isn’t a great day for the rule of law. .@realDonaldTrump was saved (for now) by a system he hates. He played gangsta in public, but was saved because he was a phony about even that!
— Howard Fineman (@howardfineman) March 24, 2019
Trump adviser: Expect Trump and his team to "slam and shame the media" in the coming days after Mueller report. "This is like Geraldo Rivera and Al Capone's vault all over again," the adviser said.
— Jim Acosta (@Acosta) March 24, 2019
The 3 biggest losers from the Mueller report in order—the media,the media, the media. It was obsessed & hysterical for 2 years, constantly suggesting the smoking-gun Russia revelation was just over the horizon, sometimes supporting its wished-for conclusion w/ erroneous reporting
— Rich Lowry (@RichLowry) March 24, 2019
I'm so glad that Republicans now believe the so called "Witch hunt" "hoax" Mueller report that "12 angry Democrats" wrote.
Now let's see what's in it!https://t.co/sRUPhZjYYE
— Brian Krassenstein (@krassenstein) March 24, 2019
No matter your politics, this is very, very good news for this country. https://t.co/pFkMks9v8v
— Joe Walsh (@WalshFreedom) March 24, 2019
Democrats spent the last few years elevating Bob Mueller, saying his work was beyond reproach, he was an even-handed, fair and tough public official.
Now he’s found no collusion with Russia. https://t.co/qkSkJuYttP
— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) March 24, 2019
I've covered enough big news stories to know that sometimes the headlines from the first day can evolve considerably as more information comes to light.
— Dan Rather (@DanRather) March 24, 2019
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.