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Republicans Are Claiming Victory Over the Mueller Report. Should Democrats Be Worried?

Trump and his allies claim Mueller’s report exonerates the president. Now, they want the Justice Department to investigate Democrats

Donald J. TrumpPresident Trump returns to The White House, Washington DC, USA - 24 Mar 2019United States President Donald J. Trump salutes the Marine Guard as he returns to the White House in Washington, DC following a weekend in Mar-a-Lago, Florida. Earlier in the day US Attorney General William P. Barr released a summary of the long-awaited Mueller Report that appears to exonerate the President and his campaign of all charges related to collusion with Russia in the 2016 Presidential Campaign and subsequent obstruction of justice charges.

President Trump

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On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr released a four-page letter summarizing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the Trump campaign’s relationship with Russia. While Barr writes that Mueller found no evidence of collusion, the document’s language is ambiguous and offers little clarity on what exactly the special counsel discovered. It does not explain why Mueller chose to defer to Barr on the issue of obstruction of justice. It’s also curious that it barely took Barr 48 hours to offer such definitive conclusions regarding such a consequential investigation that ran for nearly two years, especially considering Barr’s previously stated objections to said investigation.

Nevertheless, Trump and his allies are celebrating.

“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” the president tweeted Sunday evening. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, too, wrote that “the findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.” Though Barr quotes Mueller as writing that the investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russia government in its election interference activities,” the report specifically “does not exonerate” the president on the issue of obstruction of justice.

Trump was back at it again Monday morning.

So was Sanders, who appeared on the Today Show to defend the White House’s claim that the report is a total exoneration. When Savannah Guthrie pointed out that Barr’s decision to clear Trump of obstruction of justice was a “snap judgement” made by an attorney general who last year wrote an unsolicited 19-page memo to the Justice Department arguing that the president did not obstruct justice, Sanders essentially just reiterated Mueller passed the buck to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “That’s the process of the law,” she said.

Despite her belief that the report is a total exoneration of the president, Sanders seemed to have some reservations about releasing it to the public. “One thing we want to be clear on, we want to make sure we protect the office of the presidency,” she said on CNN.

Trump’s surrogates outside the White House were also busy. “Any lawyer never gets a letter like this,” said Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney. “Usually you get a letter that says we don’t have enough evidence. In this case we have complete vindication.”

If you’re wondering why Giuliani’s characteristic eye bulges were a little less pronounced than usual as he defended the president, so are we. On Sunday night, Washington Post reporter Josh Dawsey tweeted that Giuliani pocket-dialed him, and that it “sounded like fun was being had.”

More concerning than Giuliani’s potential hangover is where he took the conversation after claiming the president has been exonerated. “The question now is if there was no evidence of collusion — three investigations, no evidence of collusion — who made it up?” he wondered. “It had to come from somewhere. It didn’t just come out of thin air. I want to know who did it, who paid for it, who fueled it. The person who did it, the group who did it, knows it’s untrue because they invented it.”

This is ridiculous, of course. Barr’s “no collusion” assessment not withstanding, multiple members of Trump’s campaign pleaded guilty to lying about their communications with Russians. But Giuliani and Trump’s other allies have long held that the investigations are the result of a Deep State conspiracy within the Justice Department. Now, they’re trying to advance the conversation past Mueller’s report to outing this imagined conspiracy.

Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) said on Sunday morning said the Mueller report was a “partisan document” that should be “burned up” before pushing for the need to uncover the circumstances surrounding the FBI’s decision to launch the investigation. Trump seems to feel similarly. “It began illegally,” he said of the investigation after Barr’s summary was released. “And hopefully somebody’s going to look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed. And hopefully somebody’s going to be looking at the other side.”

Former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee defined the spin strategy on Monday morning. “What we need to do as Republicans is let them punch and then counterpunch and open the investigations,” he said on Fox & Friends. “Remember, we have the executive branch and the Senate. All they’ve got is the House.”

This isn’t just next-day PR, either. Holding up Barr’s brief summary as definitive proof that Mueller’s investigation was a partisan hoax that needs to be investigated is a deliberate effort to smother the legitimacy of any further inquiry, and it will persist as long as necessary. If the spotlight is on Democrats and the Justice Department, that means it’s not on Trump, even when there are so many questions yet to be answered about the special counsel’s report. As long as people are seeking those answers, Republicans will try to redirect attention toward Democrats.

As Trump — along with Giuliani, Nunes and Huckabee — note, an investigation into the Democrats’ role in genesis of the Mueller investigation is likely to be on the table, as well. “Yes, yes, yes,” Giuliani said on Fox News asked whether he thought someone conned the FBI into perpetrating one of the biggest hoaxes in America history. “You’re going to find out, believe me, who it was.”

Sounds like we could be in for a witch hunt.

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