Following the delivery of the Mueller report, the president spoke of “complete and total exoneration,” while his rivals insisted that the Russian scheme is just part of it, and that Congress will continue to investigate.
After spending 22 months with a sword of Damocles hanging over his head, Donald Trump finally claimed victory. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” he tweeted, one hour after Attorney General William Barr delivered to Congress a report of his conclusions from Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible collusion with Russia by the president and his associates. An accusation, Trump insisted, which was “the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” He said this minutes before boarding Air Force One, which would take him from Palm Beach, Florida – where he spent a crucial weekend for his presidency – back to Washington. “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president had to go through this,” he added. “This was an illegal take-down that failed.”
Trump’s “total exoneration” reading is incorrect. Quoting Mueller directly, Barr’s report literally states that, "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” However, the president’s strong response shows the path he is most likely to follow until next year’s November election. He will argue that any attempt to continue investigations will be a continuation of an already baseless “witch hunt.” The one-time suspect will present himself as the victim of radicalized Democrats conspiring to prevent America from becoming great again, something which as the White House hopes and the most cautious Democrats fear – could work to his advantage next year among undecided voters.
However, the Democrats have already indicated as of yesterday that they have no intention of dropping the ongoing investigations, now that their majority in the House has given them the tools to do so. Rep. Jerry Nadler, chairman of the key committee that would conduct the investigation for the House of Representatives, announced on Twitter, “In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision-making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future.”
Nadler made it clear that in the Democrats’ view, the release of Mueller’s report is only the beginning, and that the initiative now rests with legislators. “Seems like the Department of Justice is putting matters squarely in Congress’ court,” he said in another tweet.
This was the strategy followed by the Democrats over the last few weeks, foreseeing that the great anticipation for the Mueller report would very likely turn it into a disappointment. The idea was to lower the expectations for the investigation into the Russian scheme and to emphasize that this was just a limited front, that it does not release Congress from its duty to scrutinize the executive branch. “The job of Congress is much broader than the job of the special counsel,” Nadler also said on television, before reading Barr’s summary. “We have to protect the rule of law, we have to look for abuses of power, we have to look for obstructions of justice, we have to look for corruption,” he explained.
The first battle will be to access the full Mueller report, an endeavor Nadler warned they would not hesitate to take to the Supreme Court if necessary. The final battle, that of possible impeachment – or a process undertaken by Congress to remove the president – is slightly more unlikely today. “It’s way too early to talk about impeachment or not,” Nadler said before the committee that would start the process in the House, which the Senate (in Republican hands) would then have to approve by a two-thirds majority. However, it seems clear that what was disclosed by Barr yesterday hardly constitutes that “something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan” which Nancy Pelosi, the cautious Democratic speaker of the House, said would be required for her to support impeachment.