The anticlimactic end of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe allows President Donald Trump to relaunch his beleaguered presidency with new swagger ahead of the 2020 election.
Trump’s supporters called it a turning point, saying that with lurid questions about election-rigging out of the way, he will have a fresh chance to connect with Americans.
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“There’s a rare moment here for Donald Trump to get a bit of a reset,” said Matt Schlapp, a Trump ally and chairman of the American Conservative Union. “He’s got a chance to reconnect with more Americans than he even did previously.”
But after the nearly two-year investigation found no collusion or clear obstruction of justice, Trump and his aides showed little interest in healing or national unity. They quickly launched a fierce counterattack against both Democrats and the media, claiming that Trump had survived what amounted to an extralegal coup — and implying that other charges of wrongdoing against him should also be discounted.
“Democrats simply can’t be trusted,” former Trump White House official Steven Cheung said
“Democrats lied to the American people continually, hoping to undo the legitimate election of President Trump,” a Sunday statement from Trump’s re-election campaign declared.
“We’ve spent one year, the months and six days, 25 million in taxpayer money and I think the American people are so disgusted by the way this president has been treated that the retribution will occur at the ballot box,” added Corey Lewandowski, a Trump confidant and adviser who served as Trump’s 2016 campaign manager.
Democrats insisted on Sunday night that the story is more complicated. Some questioned whether Attorney General Robert Barr’s brief summary of Mueller’s complete report was slanted, and said only more information about Mueller’s findings — and the fruits of their own ongoing investigations — can establish whether Trump has been unfairly accused.
But after inaccurately claiming on Sunday that Barr’s letter to Congress reported a complete “exoneration” (the letter Mueller said presented arguments both for and against obstruction of justice), Trump’s allies urged retribution against Democrats who fueled the Justice Department investigation into the president.
Amid the fallout over Mueller’s findings, meanwhile, Trump will dive back into the business of the presidency this week with some high profile events that will allow him to begin a new chapter of his presidency.
He will begin this week with a two-day visit at the White House with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a like-minded ally who faces his own legal problems ahead of elections next month.
Trump will then travel to Michigan for the first of a planned series of Make America Great Again campaign rallies that will serve as a bit of victory tour, at which he hopes to shore up his base and court establishment Republicans who had already been tiring of the investigations and might give Trump a second look now that the stigma of “collusion” appears to be gone.
In the hours after the summary of the Mueller report was released, Trump’s vice president, Mike Pence, his re-election campaign and the Republican Party all committed to work “on the issues most important to our country.”
But rather than appeal for unity and healing, Trump and his allies signaled plans to hammer at his accusers in the Democratic Party and the media, even suggesting that Mueller’s probe was an extralegal political effort to topple him.
“This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to be looking at their other side,” Trump told reporters Sunday. “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this.”
Trump plans to go after House Democrats even more aggressively now that Mueller’s investigation is over, accusing them of examining the exact same issues as the special counsel did for purely partisan reasons.
Mueller’s investigation was launched in April of 2017 to investigate whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia in an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton. But it evolved into a sprawling probe that included alleged efforts by Trump to obstruct the investigation as well as questions about whether Gulf Arab governments sought to buy access to the White House.
It was a constant drag on Trump’s presidency, dominating cable news and repeatedly driving Trump to public and private fits of anger, including numerous claims that he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”
According to Barr, Mueller did not find adequate evidence to show that Trump’s campaign conspired with Russians who sought to meddle in the election. But Barr said that Mueller did not take a clear position on whether Trump obstructed justice.
Looming behind Trump’s bravado, however, are a series of lingering threats. Federal prosecutors in New York continue to investigate Trump’s campaign, inauguration and businesses. House Democrats have launched dozens of inquiries into his policies, financial interests and decisions to fire those involved in the Russia investigation. And Trump remains unlikely to get much of his legislative agenda through a deeply divided Congress.
Still, the completion of Mueller’s investigation marks a potential turning point in the Trump presidency.
The report not only invigorates Trump for the many battles ahead but gives him the license to accentuate one of his most cherished themes: that he is fighting a heroic battle against a news media and Democratic Party bent on destroying him – and deceiving the American people in order to do so.
In the telling of Trump and his allies, the Russia story has become a conspiracy between Democrats and the media, promoting a narrative of Trump-Russia cooperation, partly to cover for former President Barack Obama’s failure to prevent the Kremlin from meddling in the 2016 contest.
“Democrats and many in the mainstream media spent the last 675 days lying to the American people,” the RNC said in a statement that listed the numbers of hearings held, subpoenas issued, articles written and dollars spent on the Russian collusion investigation.
“Sadly, instead of apologizing for needlessly destabilizing the country in a transparent attempt to delegitimize the 2016 election, it’s clear that the Collusion Truthers in the media and the Democrat Party are only going to double down on their sick and twisted conspiracy theories moving forward,” his son, Donald Trump Jr., said on Sunday.
Alex Isenstadt contributed to this report.