Considering that the president began using the phrase “no collusion” prior to the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller — his first tweet on the matter was May 8, 2017, the day before firing FBI Director James Comey — it’s quite appropriate that he’d celebrate the release of the Mueller report summary by repeating the slogan as a victory call. As a fan of both political mantras and a notorious sore winner, it appears that Trump intends to play the “no collusion” card well into the 2020 campaign.
According to a senior White House official who spoke with the Washington Post, a “feeling of euphoria” overcame Trump staffers on Sunday, as they celebrated what they interpreted as a clean slate from the Mueller investigation. After a weekend spent in Florida golfing with Kid Rock and Lindsey Graham, Trump sounded thrilled when he spoke to reporters before boarding Air Force One: “After not looking at the other side, where a lot of bad things happened, a lot of horrible things happened, a lot of very bad things happened for our country, it was just announced there was no collusion with Russia, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, none whatsoever. It was a complete and total exoneration.”
White House aides and campaign officials also felt the momentum. The Trump campaign put together a video called “Collusion Hoax!” featuring prominent Democrats using the word in interviews as an all-caps “Wrong” stamp comes down over their faces. According to the Washington Post, the Republican National Committee released a set of “talking points” that targeted the cost of the probe, some $50,230 per day for 675 days. (The RNC failed to mention that the Mueller investigation reportedly brought the U.S. Treasury somewhere between $26 and $42 million in seized assets.)
One former White House official told the Post that Democrats have “just handed the Trump campaign the greatest election issue in modern political history, on a silver platter.” It’s quite likely that Trump will run with the findings, although Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the investigation explicitly states that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him” from the issue of obstruction of justice. Already, that’s a sentence that’s been swept away by Trump and his allies, who are enjoying the political victory present in the first half of the headlines: “Mueller Finds No Trump-Russia Conspiracy, but Stops Short of Exonerating President on Obstruction.”
If the phrase “no collusion” looks like it’s going to last well into 2020, the Trump team’s day-one rush of serotonin could run dry pretty quickly. In order for the president to justify his synthetic claims of exoneration, he may have to support the release of the full report, a document that may not be as friendly to him as Bill Barr’s SparkNotes version is. As former federal prosecutor Ken White writes in the Atlantic:
Without seeing Mueller’s full report, we don’t know whether [the decision not to claim Trump obstructed of justice] is a firm conclusion about lack of coordination or a frank admission of insufficient evidence. The difference is meaningful, both as a matter of history and because it might determine how much further Democrats in Congress are willing to push committee investigations of the matter.
And as Democrats in Congress probe the obstruction of justice angle, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York explore possible violations of state laws by the Trump campaign and Trump Organization. “I’ve always thought that the SDNY investigation was much more dangerous than the Mueller investigation because it has no restriction on its scope,” Trump ally Chris Christie told the Washington Post. Not only can the president not issue pardons on state cases, Politico reports that “legal circles are also buzzing over whether SDNY might buck DOJ guidance and seek to indict a sitting president.” “
But for the moment, ignorance is bliss. According to White House spokesman Hogan Gidley, Trump watched TV and spoke on the phone during his flight back to D.C. on Sunday. “He’s just very happy with how it all turned out,” Gidley said. He had not yet read the full report.