Trump’s Presidency After Mueller

Sean Gannon

The Mueller investigation — created to find links between the Trump Campaign and Russian election interference — has dominated political headlines and discourse over the past two years, bearing a progressive desire that the President would be impeached while serving as fodder for Conservatives railing against the dishonest media and Congressional Democrats. Although the investigation is finished, the report hasn’t lost its political clout — and nobody is willing to let it go.

Attorney General William Barr shattered any realistic hope of impeaching the President late last month, releasing a four-page summary of Mueller’s more-than-300-page report that affirmed President Trump’s mantra — “no collusion” — criminally, at least. Still, a slight majority of the country (56 percent) say that “the President and his campaign have not been exonerated of collusion but collusion could not be proven,” according to a recent CNN poll.

Obstruction of justice, which eventually superseded collusion as the focal point of the investigation, is a far trickier question. In his full report, Mueller laid out the evidence for and against obstruction of justice charges, but did not offer his own conclusion. Mueller instead kicked the can to Barr and his Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein. The two concluded that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

But Congressional Democrats — and nearly eight in ten Americans, according to a recent CBS poll — still want Mueller’s full report to be released.

“The trouble you get into is if you don’t release it [the report], you’re relying on Barr’s interpretation,” said Pete Parcells, an economics professor at Whitman.

Democrats have rejected the notion that Barr, who sent an unsolicited memo to the White House before he was hired arguing a President cannot obstruct justice if there’s no underlying crime, should be able to decide whether Mueller’s evidence spells obstruction. Subsequently, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler plans to subpoena Mueller’s entire, unredacted report this week, even though Barr says a redacted version will arrive “by mid-April, if not sooner.”

The move may just be a continuation of Democrats’ search for the truth and transparency. But the political incentives are not lost on senior Emma Philbrook, co-president of College Republicans.

“The Democrats want the full report so they can get the goods on obstruction,” Philbrook said. She’s sure Congressional Democrats hope to bring further investigations based on Mueller’s evidence of obstruction, and doesn’t doubt that Democrats want the report’s details that make President Trump look shady and immoral. “It’s like opposition research on a silver platter,” she said.

While Mueller’s report may prove to be useful for the Democrats election efforts, Barr’s summary brought Trump one of the best weeks of his presidency. Free from the investigation that clouded 85 percent of his term and fueled his political opponents in the media and Congress, President Trump is enjoying a rare, somewhat manufactured moment of political vindication.

“Erroneously, Trump’s going to try and use [the Barr summary] for political capital, but political capital in terms of bashing the Democrats and bashing the witch hunt,” Parcells said.

The President did exactly that in his first speech since Barr’s summary was released, in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“After three years of lies and smears and slander the Russia hoax is finally dead,” Trump said to an excited crowd. “The collusion delusion is over.”

The President went on to ridicule Democrats that were too vocally certain Mueller would find collusion, later taking to Twitter to call on Adam Schiff — one of the aforementioned Democrats — to “resign from Congress!”

If President Trump’s first two weeks are any indication of how he will use the Mueller report to his electoral advantage, he will continue to gin up attention with claims of total exoneration and threats to start investigations into his investigators. If he can keep Democrats’ narrative focused on the Mueller report, Parcells believes it could be to his benefit.

“The more that Trump responds to [the Mueller report], the more he gets the ire of the Democrats up, and the more that they focus on this, I think they’re hurting their chances for the election down the road,” Parcells said.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned is that President Trump steers the media’s coverage. Keeping the investigation alive with tweets, calls on Democrats to resign, and false claims of “total exoneration,” President Trump can pull the national conversation from Democrat’s strengths (healthcare) to their worst habits: speculating about the Mueller report.

To Dr. Jack Jackson, a law professor at Whitman, this was a central problem in conversations about the Mueller investigation: “Too much time has been spent on speculation and too little time has been devoted to actual political facts and known reality.”