On Friday, Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted to Attorney General William Barr his report on Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential Election and Donald Trump’s role in that. This is the culmination of two years of investigation, and the cloud of the Russia investigation has been hanging over the Trump presidency since the election. For the Democrats, Mueller was their salvation, destined to save this country from the scourge of the Trump presidency. For Trump and his allies on the right, he was the mastermind behind a deep state witch hunt seeking to delegitimize the President.
Last night, Barr sent his summary of the report to Congress. Mueller had been looking at two issues, Russia’s dissemination of disinformation on social media, and the Russian government’s hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Mueller found no evidence of collusion on the part of the Trump campaign on either account. From Barr’s report, “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 Presidential election.”
The second order of business was surrounding whether the President had obstructed justice during the course of the investigation. On this account, Mueller did not consider it his place to offer a judgement. Barr’s report reads, “the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult questions’ of law and facts concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction… While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded the evidence was “not sufficient” to establish that the President committed a crime.
In short, it was a good result for President Trump, so much so CNN’s Jeffrey Tobin said no more Mueller indictments was “really good news” for Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner.
Robert Mueller deserves a lot of credit. For two years, he has been both deified and vilified. But by all available measures, he ran a tight and thorough investigation. There were very few leaks on his part, and he seemed to do his job under intense public scrutiny without blinking an eye. It is easy for a prosecutor like Mueller to dig until he finds anything at all. This is what Ken Starr did with the Clinton investigation in the 90s, starting with Whitewater, a housing scandal, before moving onto a sexual assault scandal before hitting pay dirt with Monica Lewinsky. Mueller did his job, did it thoroughly, and then wrapped it up.
Frankly, the shrill predictions of partisans aside, this should have been the expected result. The chances of a Presidential candidate activity working with a hostile foreign government was always rather small. It would’ve required immense planning and careful strategy, and Donald Trump doesn’t strike me as a master planner and strategist. While the Trump administration did not handle the progress of the investigation well, obstruction of justice and conspiracy are legal terms that mean specific things. Shouting “witch hunt!” on twitter might be unsavory, but it is not obstruction of justice.
That is not to say Mueller finding no collusion means his investigation was a waste of time. He indicted 34 individuals, including the President’s former campaign manager. While his crimes were unrelated to Russian interference in the 2016 election, to say Mueller found no illegal activity, or it was confined to a few low level individuals with no relation to the larger campaign, would not be true. We also found out that Trump was pursuing a business deal in Russia during the 2016 campaign while making very friendly towards the Russians government. That is on top of statements that are head-scratchingly pro-Russia or antagonistic towards the investigation. That’s not to say Donald Trump committed a crime. But it refutes the argument that the investigation was baseless.
The conclusion of the Mueller report does not mean the President’s legal troubles are over, or even his ties to Russia are not going to be a sore spot going forward. But the threat from Robert Mueller, which was the most severe short term legal obstacle, is over.