Trump’s Post-Mueller Euphoria Gives Way to Anger and Recrimination
(Bloomberg) -- On the White House’s South Lawn on Thursday, a mob of reporters waited to question Donald Trump about Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report before the president left for a long weekend in Florida.
He emerged from the White House holding his wife’s hand. But instead of his customary stop to take a few questions from reporters, he silently waved and boarded the presidential helicopter.
It was First Lady Melania Trump’s idea to spurn the press as Trump sought to show defiance after Mueller’s report, people briefed on the matter said. But his vindication over Mueller and Attorney General William Barr clearing him of criminal liability is giving way to anger. People close to him are worried Trump has begun to stew over news coverage of the report, which has focused on Mueller’s documentation of the president’s efforts to interfere in the investigation and deceive the public about his actions.
Trump issued two tweets on Friday in which he used a profanity to describe some of Mueller’s findings.
People close to him hope he realizes that the report isn’t crippling and the negative stories will largely end by Monday. But there are fresh concerns that Mueller’s revelations could damage his image with moderate swing voters who approve of Trump’s handling of the economy but are turned off by his unpredictable, unpresidential style, one White House aide said.
Other advisers hope that Democrats overplay their hand, similar to the Republican effort to impeach President Bill Clinton, allowing Trump to continue to portray the investigation as a political vendetta. The people interviewed for this story asked not be identified because of the sensitivity of the matter.
Trump and the White House acted indifferent to the report on Thursday. After musing that he might hold a news conference the day before, he took no questions from reporters. Trump’s legal team issued an initial statement on Mueller’s report but decided not to publish a fuller counter-report they had spent months compiling to rebut the special counsel.
“We do not feel the need to issue any additional reports,” Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow said in an email. “We are pleased that the special counsel matter has been concluded.”
White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway called Thursday the “best day since he got elected.”
At Palm Beach International Airport Thursday evening, a smiling president greeted supporters, signing “MAGA” ballcaps and telling them “thank you” many times. He again ignored questions shouted by reporters traveling with him. He golfed with Rush Limbaugh on Friday.
But the president’s irritation grew as he watched coverage of the report Friday morning. He and his allies are particularly angry with former White House Counsel Don McGahn and former Staff Secretary Rob Porter, both of whom spoke extensively with Mueller. McGahn painted a detailed picture of Trump’s many attempts to interfere in the investigation, while Porter recounted several unflattering scenes from Trump’s presidency.
Several advisers wondered whether Trump allies will seek retribution against the two former aides.
Many of the events Mueller chronicled were reported contemporaneously in the news media and declared “fake news” by the president at the time. That claim is less credible following the Justice Department’s release of Mueller’s report, since people he interviewed could be charged with perjury if they weren’t truthful. Many of them corroborated their accounts with notes or other materials.
The report chronicled in detail at least 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice, including “discouragement of cooperation with the government and suggestions of possible future pardons.” At times, Trump was stymied by aides who refused to act on his orders.
"The president’s efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," Mueller wrote.
But there was also a sense of relief among White House aides yesterday; the investigation is behind them, and the worst-case scenario -- the indictment of Trump or members of his family -- didn’t come to pass. Those who have seen Trump weather many seemingly catastrophic moments suspect he will move past this one as well.
There is also optimism voters will make their choice in 2020 based on the strength of the economy and immigration issues, rather than the president’s personality, and a belief that the Mueller report is only a fixation in Washington.
“Voters have all made up their mind. This is not a vote-determinative issue,” said Jason Miller, a former Trump campaign spokesman. “This is not driving conversations in homes all around the country.”
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