That ever-present gap between what President Donald Trump threatens and orders and what he actually gets done served him well by pre-empting a possible obstruction charge.
Remember: Trump made clear his wish or intent that the Russia "witch hunt" would end. He fired FBI Director James Comey and spoke of it to Russian officials. He dangled criminal pardons for associates whom special counsel Robert Mueller charged. He fed conspiracy theories about a coup of angry Democrats and deep-state espionage. He pilloried former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the probe.
Trump declined to be interviewed under oath. And as Mueller's report notes, Trump even tried to force Mueller's removal by cooking up a conflict-of-interest charge. White House Counsel Don McGahn, however, refused to carry out the edict, which was then abandoned.
Failure may not be an option but sometimes it can be an alibi — especially when subordinates defy certain directives.
And so, Trump's new and more pliant attorney general, William Barr, offered a rationale for the Mueller report's inconclusive findings on obstruction of justice that reflects the president's often overwrought conduct.
"As the special counsel’s report acknowledges," Barr said Thursday, "there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks."
The text of the Mueller report gets at the same point, less generously:
"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.
" … Had any of them acted in service of Trump's purported requests, their actions would have meant serving directives towards obstructing justice. Fortunately for Trump, his officials decided to ignore him."
Whatever intentions can be divined from his behavior, Trump presumably did not block the investigation because, well, you finally have Mueller's 400-page report, delivered after two years and numerous prosecutions.
Now the president's critics in Congress get to comb the report with an eye toward denying Trump the cosseting he gets from Barr and other White House officials. It is all but guaranteed they will have a different take on the facts revealed and work from there.
Trump & Co. will no doubt point fingers of their own in several directions, as if spraying verbal machine-gun fire at the ground from the back of the getaway car fleeing the scene of the non-crime.