The end? Not likely
"No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION," tweeted Donald Trump after the summary of special counsel Robert Mueller's report came out.
It wasn't quite all that, but close enough for Trump's side to call it a big win, and to make the prospects for impeachment appear more remote. The evidence collected by Mueller over 22 months, according to the letter from Attorney General William Barr, didn't support charging the president with any crimes. There was reason enough, it seemed, for Trump to be happy.
But Trump had his angry face on for the cameras at the West Palm Beach airport before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington. (Click here for video.) Why just declare victory and move on when it suits him temperamentally and, in his mind, politically, to keep on fighting?
"This was an illegal takedown that failed," said Trump. "And hopefully, somebody is going to be looking at the other side." He didn't say who he meant, but in the past has pointed the finger at the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, "13 angry Democrats" on Mueller's team, the intelligence community, FBI officials, "Fake News" and others.
"It's a shame that our country had to go through this," Trump said. "To be honest, it's a shame that your president has had to go through this." His 2020 campaign pushed out a video that while the "Dems hyped collusion," Mueller (no longer the "conflicted" witch-hunter) "proves them wrong."
Another Trump remark — that "so many people have been so badly hurt" — is a reminder that Trump hasn't ruled out pardons for former top aides who Mueller did charge with crimes and pleaded or were found guilty, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.
For more on Trump's response to the Mueller finale, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez.
Partly clear, partly cloudy
Mueller determined there was no doubt that Russia tried to influence the 2016 election through social media disinformation and computer hacking operations, according to Barr's summary. But Mueller "did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts," Barr wrote, "despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign."
While Barr's four-page letter didn't spell that out, and the full report remains under wraps, those instances would seem to include the notorious Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer hosted by Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016.
Mueller's report was murkier on whether Trump crossed the line into criminal conduct in efforts to obstruct the Russia investigation. "The Special Counsel states that 'while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,’ ” said Barr.
Wrestling with "what the Special Counsel views as 'difficult issues' of law and fact," Mueller punted the decision on whether Trump deserved an obstruction charge to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. The top two Justice Department officials reasoned that the no-collusion finding made it harder to show that Trump had "corrupt intent," and they noted that many of the president's actions "took place in public view."
That's one of the judgment calls that Democrats in Congress are preparing to dispute as they demand to see the full report and all underlying evidence. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) said he will be calling on the Trump-chosen attorney general for questioning by his committee. "I think all of us should be very concerned about the evenhandedness,” Nadler said on MSNBC.
Janison: The rig leaf falls
For two years, Trump kicked and screamed and led a chorus of invective about a "rigged witch hunt" and a "hoax" and a vast partisan "deep-state" conspiracy against him. Maybe, just maybe, the law-enforcement apparatus functioned fairly after all, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.
Left unexplained by Trump and his echo chamber is the simple logical question of why a so-called “rigged” probe would have absolved its biggest subject of any criminality. Remember that Trump won the presidency after wailing and sneering that the Republican primaries and then the general election were "rigged" against him.
As he declares himself vindicated, it gets harder to take seriously that he still wants Mueller's report released in full, which he suggested last week.
Dems: No closure without disclosure
Barr said he will release some of the Mueller report, but not necessarily all of it. "My goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel's report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies," he wrote to members of Congress.
Democratic leaders said they don't want Barr deciding what to omit. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr is "not a neutral observer." They said that his past "bias" against the special counsel inquiry — alluding to skepticism he expressed on the Russia investigation before Trump picked him for attorney general — shows he is "not in a position to make objective determinations."
Republicans on the Sunday talk shows voiced a range of views on what should be made public. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said, "This has consumed two years of the American people’s time and we need full transparency." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), noting Trump's comment last week that he favored making it public, said, "That's the president's call." Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), who chaired the intelligence committee before Democrats won the House, said the Mueller report should be burned because “it is a partisan document.”
The Senate Republicans' leader, Mitch McConnell, offered words of thanks to Mueller, noting that while the report found no collusion by Trump and his campaign, "Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere with our democracy are dangerous and disturbing, and I welcome the special counsel's contributions to our efforts to understand better Russia's activities in this regard." To this day, Trump has hesitated to acknowledge Russia's role.
All the president's probes
As big as it is, the end of the Mueller investigation crosses off just one item on the list of Trump investigations. Among them:
Congressional Democrats are looking at the operations of Trump’s White House and his private business and want to see his never-disclosed tax returns. Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges involving payment of hush money to women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump, has said he's helping prosecutors in the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office with a current investigation.
Those prosecutors also have issued a wide-ranging subpoena examining the finances of the president's 2017 inaugural committee. The New York attorney general is investigating the Trump Foundation for alleged self-dealing. Trump’s company appears to be the focus of two new state inquiries that followed the congressional testimony by Cohen that Trump had submitted inflated summaries of his assets to both insurers and would-be lenders.
An island divided
Newsday's Rachelle Blidner reports on how Long Island's House members reacted to the summary of Mueller's findings:
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) told Newsday: "It means that the president is vindicated. It shows me he's been right all along and his critics have been wrong." Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans) said, "I don't think it changes much... there's plenty of corruption within this administration, and this continues with the investigations being done by the [U.S.] Southern District of New York."
Reps. Thomas Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) and Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) said the public deserves to see Mueller's full report.
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) denounced the investigation and said he looks forward to "maximum accountability for the individuals responsible for spreading destructive disinformation trying to take down a President of the United States for crimes he didn't commit."
What else is happening:
- A Russian lawmaker called for a reset in his nation's relations with the U.S. following the Justice Department's "no collusion" finding. At the same time, however, Russia landed troops in Venezuela to help besieged President Nicolas Maduro.
- Italy defied the Trump administration and European Union by signing on to a big infrastructure deal that will help Chinese goods and resources to move through Asia, Africa and Europe.
- Former FBI Director James Comey, whose firing by Trump triggered the appointment of Mueller to lead the Russia investigation, tweeted an image of himself in a forest with a three-word caption: "So many questions."
- See a review of the cast of characters who figured in Mueller's investigation by Newsday's Yancey Roy.
- Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand labeled Trump a “coward” who is "tearing apart the moral fabric of this country" during her 2020 presidential campaign rally Sunday in Manhattan in the shadow of Trump International Hotel and Tower. See Newsday's story by Emily Ngo.
- Long Island Reps. King and Suozzi are crafting a $10 billion bipartisan proposal that would give Trump a big chunk of the money he has sought for barriers on the Mexican border while also providing a path to legal status for immigrants who otherwise would be at risk of deportation, reports Newsday's Víctor Manuel Ramos.
- Trump's decision to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, seized from Syria in the 1967 war, hasn't caused much of a ripple in the Arab world, The New York Times reports. One reason is few care anymore what Syria wants.
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will cut short his U.S. visit after meeting with Trump following a rocket attack near Tel Aviv that wounded seven people.
- Souvenirs for sale at the Trump International Hotel in Washington and the Trump Store (that's the business, not the campaign) show the Trump brand name emblazoned on images of the White House, HuffPost reports.
- Beto O'Rourke says he supports universal health care, but he wants to take a different path to get there than the "Medicare for All" idea advanced by many of his more progressive rivals for the 2020 Democratic nomination, CNN reports. O'Rourke would offer a choice between staying in employer-sponsored plans or enrolling in Medicare.
- Here's what Democratic 2020 contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren wanted her Twitter followers to know Sunday morning: "Fun fact: Bruce and I love maple syrup!" Is it yummy on ancestry waffles?