Trump Said ‘No Collusion,’ and Now He Gets to Say I Told You So

(Bloomberg) -- Donald Trump has declared more than 200 times that there was “no collusion” between his campaign and the Russian effort to interfere in the 2016 election. Turns out he was right.

Trump enjoyed one of the highest moments of his presidency on Sunday after Attorney General William Barr absolved him of crimes related to Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the U.S. investigation that followed. The significance wasn’t lost on the president, who took a moment on his way home from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to gloat.

“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this,” he told reporters before boarding Air Force One. “To be honest, it’s a shame your president had to go through this.”

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, he declared, was “an illegal takedown that failed.”

Mueller found that no one associated with the president conspired with the Russian interference scheme, while Barr said he determined there isn’t sufficient evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice by meddling with the U.S. investigation. It was an unambiguous victory for a besieged White House and a president whose entire administration has unfolded under the cloud of the Russia investigation.

Barr’s letter also sets Democrats on their heels as they begin opening a slew of new investigations into the president, his financial affairs and his administration. Impeachment seems all but impossible, and Trump’s 2020 re-election campaign is cast loose from the weight of the Russia affair.

Through the 22-month investigation that roiled Washington and the White House, the president clung to a singular refrain: no collusion.

Even as staff resigned, allies were indicted, and opponents insinuated a sinister conspiracy, Trump was steadfast as he insisted he was never involved in Russia’s electoral interference.

On Sunday, the nation learned that after more than 2,800 subpoenas, almost 500 search warrants, and hundreds of interviews, Special Counsel Mueller agreed.

“It’s better than I expected,” Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Guiliani, said Sunday. Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called Barr’s letter a “total and complete exoneration” of the president.

With the exception, perhaps, of the day Trump’s massive overhaul of the tax code passed both chambers of Congress, there’s little competition when considering where Sunday will rank among the best days for this White House.

Democrats’ Response

Challenged on whether the report truly exonerated Trump, as he claimed, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley told reporters aboard Air Force One that “prosecutors don’t exonerate, they prosecute. They don’t prove a negative.”

Trump, Gidley said, was in a “really good mood” during the flight. He watched television and talked with his staff, assessing the coverage of Barr’s letter, and made phone calls. Gidley declined to say whom the president called.

“America is the greatest place on Earth,” Trump told reporters upon returning to the White House. He took no questions.

Trump’s campaign rapidly turned the letter into a fundraising opportunity. “Dems raised millions off a lie. Now we FIGHT BACK!” his campaign said in a message to supporters, offering to quadruple-match all donations received within an hour.

Congressional Democrats seized on the special counsel’s decision to leave open the question of whether Trump’s conduct in office amounted to obstruction of justice – including the firing of FBI Director James Comey, pressuring top Justice Department officials, and railing against the investigation as partisan.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said on Twitter that he would soon summon Barr to testify to his committee on his determination that Mueller didn’t find sufficient evidence that Trump committed a crime -- even though Mueller stopped short of that conclusion. Barr quoted Mueller as saying, “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Yet Mueller’s ambiguity means there’s little chance the obstruction issue constitutes a continuing threat to the president.

Danger, Still

Danger still lurks for Trump. Findings from the Mueller investigation inspired new probes into the president’s payoffs to women who have alleged extramarital affairs, as well as possibly illegal donations to and spending by his inaugural committee. And Democrats are already demanding fuller access to the Mueller report, no doubt hoping it will contain new examples of embarrassing or unethical behavior by the president and his staff.

But the immediate legal and political risk has disappeared for the president, who can now swagger into the 2020 campaign not only free of the allegations of collusion but emboldened in his claims that bureaucrats, the media, and his political opponents conspired to undermine his presidency. And the report has provided Trump and his allies a cudgel as he faces other investigations into corruption by top administration officials.

The report is vindication for many Trump allies pulled into an investigation that cost them tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills, public harassment and reputational harm. Chief among them was the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

“The Mueller Report proves what those of us with sane minds have known all along, there was ZERO collusion with Russia,” Trump Jr. said in an email. “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.”

Yet as a political matter, Barr’s letter may not produce a major shift in voter attitudes toward the president. In the run-up to the mid-term elections in November, just 45 percent of voters said the outcome of the Russia investigation was extremely or very important to them compared with 80 percent who said the same about health care and 78 percent on immigration, according to a Gallup poll.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.