ANALYSIS: Donald Trump takes a victory lap after conclusion of Russia probe
We still don’t know why so many people in Donald Trump’s orbit lied about their contacts with Russia.
We still don’t know why Trump was so desperate to discredit Robert Mueller before the special counsel had delivered a single conclusion.
And Trump’s affection for Vladimir Putin remains completely inexplicable.
None of that may matter anymore.
After two years of investigation, indictments and successive “worst weeks ever,” Trump’s single best day in office has seemingly undone it all.
Let’s be clear about a few important things: Trump has not been fully exonerated — at least not over the question of obstruction of justice.
There are more than a dozen spin-off investigations that still pose real legal peril to people in Trump’s world, and perhaps to Trump himself.
And most importantly, we have not seen the Mueller report or even a single complete sentence from the Mueller report. We have access only to a four-page summary prepared by the attorney general that includes some partial quotes.
In fact, Donald Trump’s best day in office still leaves him in a worse position than many other presidents have been in on their worst days. But expectations have shifted.
WATCH: Findings of Mueller report released, Trump reacts ‘complete and total exoneration’
The screaming morning-after headline on the New York Times made it clear that Trump had won. “MUELLER FINDS NO TRUMP-RUSSIA CONSPIRACY,” read the all-caps banner.
No nuance there. No explanation that the summarized conclusion is actually that of Trump’s appointed attorney general. Talk of obstruction of justice was buried down below.
Trump spent 675 days of his presidency under the cloud of the Mueller probe. Since before he was sworn in as president, he has faced questions about whether Russia helped him and his campaign.
Much of that damage was self-inflicted. Openly calling on Russia to hack his opponent probably didn’t help. Neither did his public admission that he fired FBI director James Comey because he was sick of the Russia probe.
But now Trump can proclaim that doesn’t matter and that none of it matters because the guy he accused of leading a “witch hunt” — a man who he proclaimed was “angry” and “conflicted” — ended up delivering the simple conclusion he so badly needed.
“They lost-we are now in a new world,” proclaimed Trump-backer Newt Gingrich, signalling the general mood in Washington.
Trump has already taken a victory lap. His advisers are already building the loudest defence they can against anything damaging that might be contained in the body of the actual report.
At this rate, they might be looking to pre-emptively discredit all those other investigations, too.
Without the benefit of seeing Mueller’s full report, all we can rely on is Attorney General William Barr’s summary, which says there was no collusion but which leaves so many questions unanswered.
Barr quotes the Mueller report as saying, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Does this mean Mueller found evidence — but not enough to prove this beyond a reasonable doubt, rising to the level of criminality? Or does it mean he found no evidence at all? We don’t know because we haven’t seen the report.
But the general conclusion of no collusion is now out there. The cake, as they say, is already baked.
Even Trump’s loudest detractors have turned to a new message: Good news! The president didn’t collude with a hostile foreign government to win an election!
But the truly good news may simply be that it’s all over. The entire country can now focus on the issues that matter to real people in real America.
When I travelled to Wisconsin ahead of the midterm elections, everyday Americans on both sides of the political spectrum were not talking about Russia, Mueller, Comey, Flynn, or Manafort. They were talking about health care, education, immigration, taxes, trade and the economy.
If you’re a Democrat looking to unseat Trump in 2020, you can now go about it the old fashioned way — campaigning on the issues.
If you’re Nancy Pelosi, trying to contain a caucus that’s hungry for impeachment, you can rest easy. The murky and politically fraught idea of removing Trump from office seems to have gone out the window.
And if you’re Donald Trump you can smile, because after two years of saying “no collusion!” to anyone who would listen, the man who was investigating that very question is now saying it, too.
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global News.
© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.