On the day the Mueller report is due to drop, it looks like Trump has massively overplayed his hand


Photo credit should read JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

US President Donald Trump speaks as he participates in an Opportunity Zone conference with State, local, tribal, and community leaders at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 17, 2019.

  • After Mueller's report on Russian collusion was submitted to the attorney general, President Trump claimed it gave him "total exoneration."
  • But the attorney general's own summary of the report provides grounds for unease in the White House, noting that though Mueller did not charge the president, he does does exonerate him.
  • The full report is likely to detail the president's actions as he attacked the probe, likely to be damaging to the White House.
  • Barr is scheduled to submit the redacted report to Congress at 11am Thursday.
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After special counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report on Russian collusion to Attorney General William Barrr back in March, President Trump was exultant.

The president claimed "complete and total exoneration" in remarks to reporters two days later, saying its findings showed "there was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, none whatsoever."Advertisement

In the weeks following the president has continued to claim that the report shows him to be completely innocent, while taking the war to his enemies. He swore revenge against those who instigated the Mueller probe, whom he has characterized as Democrats with a political vendetta.

Among the president's aides though, disquiet has reportedly grown as they prepare for the release of the redacted 400-page report.

The source of the reported disquiet: fear that Trump's attempt to claim victory was so uncompromising that it will leave him dangerously exposed when reality hits.

Citing sources close to the president, The New York Times reported on Sunday that aides are uneasy with the president's claims that the report lets him off the hook, and would prefer that he had used the term "vindication" instead of "exoneration."

The only public details so far on the contents of the report are a four-page summary delivered by Barr, which was denounced as a whitewash by Democrats.But Trump went further even than Barr's conclusions in his claims of victory, which now look like a strategic blunder. Advertisement

In his summary of the report, Barr wrote that the investigation "did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," and "does not conclude the President committed a crime" - conclusions favorable to Trump.

But, crucially, Barr also said the report "also does not exonerate him."

Special counsel Robert Mueller drives away from his Washington home on Wednesday, April 17, 2019. Outstanding questions about the special counsel's Russia investigation have not stopped President Donald Trump and his allies from declaring victory.  (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)

Associated Press

Special counsel Robert Mueller drives away from his Washington home on, April 17, 2019.


This flatly contradicts what the the president himself has claimed of the report.

And though Mueller did not find grounds for charging Trump or his aides with crimes relating to collusion, their findings on the question of whether the president attempted to obstruct the investigators are far less clear-cut.

According to Barr, Mueller declined to reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. After consulting with his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, Barr concluded that there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges. Advertisement

But this does not mean there is no evidence. Indeed, the report is likely to feature extensive, unflattering evidence of behaviour by the president - both in public and behind closed doors - as he targeted Mueller's probe and attacked the officials who instigated it.

Sources with knowledge of the matter told the Washington Post in an article published Wednesday that Mueller's report will be lightly redacted, offering a detailed look at the president's behavior scrutinized by investigators as evidence of possible obstruction.

Mueller's investigators themselves have provided further grounds for concern that the reports findings could undermine the president's narrative. Sources close to the probe told both the New York Times and Washington Post that Barr's summary presents Mueller's findings in too positive a light for Trump, particularly on the issue of obstruction. Advertisement

Non-criminal, but nonetheless damaging, interactions between Trump's team and Russians linked to the Kremlin could also be exposed by the report.

While some analysts think that Trump succeeded in cementing his take on the reports findings to core supporters, others believe the president has effectively set himself up for a fall. Republican strategist Michael Steele told the Washington Post: "In terms of the public perception, I have a strong feeling that the president's victory lap will be followed by a long string of embarrassing revelations as portions of the full report make their way into the public."Advertisement

So, though Trump and his aides have portrayed the report as having finally ended the claims of collusion and obstruction that have dogged his presidency, the initial sense of triumph is well on its way to turning sour.