U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to a group of mayors in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: T.J. Kirkpatrick/Bloomberg)

Democrats Make Sure Trump Can’t Escape Mueller

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump returned from a long Easter weekend in Florida to a new political landscape, one where his administration is at last freed from Robert Mueller’s pursuit yet laid bare in all its dysfunction by the special counsel’s report.

Trump arrived Thursday to his Mar-a-Lago resort with the swagger of a conquering hero, after Mueller reiterated that he had found no evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia to interfere in the 2016 election. The president high-fived supporters at the Palm Beach airport and pumped his fists.

Democrats Make Sure Trump Can’t Escape Mueller

But in Florida, storms regather quickly. Lawmakers back in Washington as well as the media focused on Mueller’s depiction of a president who repeatedly sought to interfere in the Russia investigation while deceiving the public about his actions.

Congressional panels moved to schedule testimony by Mueller and Attorney General William Barr. Democratic presidential candidates called for impeachment proceedings. The president’s mood appeared to sour as he absorbed the developments, with a series of tweets Easter morning griping about the report and its news coverage.

Trump, though, insisted on Twitter that he had “never been happier or more content.” Asked outside church on Sunday if he felt betrayed by aides who cooperated with Mueller, Trump paused as if to respond. But he only offered a grin and a wave.

On Monday he contended he committed no crimes for which he could be impeached.

Asked Monday during the White House Easter Egg Roll whether he’s worried about impeachment, Trump said: “Not even a little bit.”

Tricky Decisions

Both Trump and and his opponents face tricky political decisions in the weeks to come.

Democrats broadly desire to keep Mueller’s report in the spotlight. But while the party’s presidential candidates and many activists have demanded Trump be held accountable, its congressional leaders fear that pursuing impeachment could backfire and wind up strengthening the president, similar to the Republican attempt to remove President Bill Clinton from office.

“We will have to decide, do we nonetheless go through an impeachment because to do otherwise would signal that somehow this president’s conduct is OK, that future presidents can engage in this kind of corruption without consequence?” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said on "Fox News Sunday." “Or do we decide that we’re better off doing the oversight through the context of oversight hearings rather than a formal impeachment?”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will hold a call with her caucus on Monday to discuss strategy.

Many of Trump’s advisers, meanwhile, would like to put the report behind them and focus on policies and messaging that they believe will help him win re-election in 2020 -- emphasizing the strength of the economy and his effort to secure the U.S. southern border and crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

But the president, who has frequently described himself as a counter-puncher, has no intention of letting go the “witch hunt” so long as his opponents insist on talking about it.

Over the weekend, he pinned an attack on Senator Mitt Romney to the top of his Twitter feed. The Utah Republican issued one of the most blistering criticisms of Trump’s behavior, saying in a statement on Thursday that he was “sickened at the extent and pervasiveness of dishonesty and misdirection by individuals in the highest office of the land, including the president.”

Trump in response mocked the senator for his loss to Barack Obama in the 2012 presidential election.

McGahn Attacked

Trump’s lawyers meanwhile may be reconsidering whether to release a rebuttal to Mueller’s report they said they were assembling. His attorney Jay Sekulow said last week that they had nothing more to say on the matter. But on Sunday, Rudy Giuliani said that “there will be a point at which we’ll put it out. Not tomorrow, not the next day. Then we’ll see. We’ll see what happens.”

Giuliani and other Trump allies leveled many of their attacks over the weekend against former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who spoke extensively with Mueller about Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation. The criticism was perceived as an indication of the president’s own anger toward McGahn. But the public lashing only served to focus attention on the former White House lawyer’s account of some of Trump’s more outrageous actions.

Mueller described McGahn as one of several White House officials who stymied Trump’s efforts to interfere in the Russia investigation by refusing to carry out his orders. Asked Monday whether anyone on his staff disobeyed him, Trump said: “Nobody disobeys my orders.”

Trump’s advisers are optimistic that Democrats will overplay their hand by focusing on Mueller’s report rather than issues such as immigration and health care that they believe are more resonant with voters. As long as they do, Trump will continue with his counter-narrative: The investigation was part of a so-called “deep state” conspiracy, essentially a coup -- a message that is well-received among the president’s devoted base.

“The president would be smart to continue hammering on potential illegality that went into the formation of the investigation,” said Jason Miller, a former spokesman for the Trump campaign. “Democrats are never going to stop.”

Indeed, they too face demands from their base. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who was the first major Democratic presidential candidate to call for Trump’s impeachment in the aftermath of the report, called it a “point of principle.”

“No one is above the law,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.