WASHINGTON (AP) — Before the world glimpsed the redacted version of the special counsel’s report, President Donald Trump tried once more to frame the moment as a political victory.
The 448-page report does include an account of how the president attempted to seize control of the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and force out Robert Mueller from leading the inquiry. But that didn’t stop Trump from taking a public victory lap Thursday, declaring at a White House event that he was having “a good day.”
“It was called no collusion, no obstruction. There never was, by the way, and there never will be,” Trump said at a gathering of wounded veterans. “This should never happen to another president again, this hoax.”
Twelve times Trump took to Twitter in the hours before Attorney General William Barr outlined the findings of the report. The president proclaimed his innocence and insisted that the investigation was politically motivated. As soon as Barr concluded his remarks, and more than an hour before Mueller’s report was released, Trump tweeted a taunt over an image inspired by the HBO show “Game of Thrones.”
“No Collusion. No Obstruction,” it said. “For the haters and the radical left Democrats — Game Over.”
It is true that Mueller did not charge that Trump’s campaign colluded with Russia. And Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, in the attorney general’s four-page summary of the Mueller report that was released last month, declined to charge obstruction of justice.
But the two-volume report does recount how Trump repeatedly sought to take control of an investigation that has hovered over the first two years of his presidency.
Mueller reported that Trump had been agitated at the investigation from the start. Trump reacted to Mueller’s appointment by saying it was the “end of his presidency.”
The report said that in June 2017, Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to call Rosenstein, who oversaw the investigation, and say that Mueller must be ousted because Mueller had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused, deciding he would rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential repeat of the Saturday Night Massacre firings from Watergate. During that crisis, President Richard Nixon first ordered his attorney general, and then the deputy, to fire the Watergate special prosecutor; they refused and quit on a weekend, but did not derail the independent investigation or Nixon’s collapse for long.
As for the question of whether Trump’s campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential race, Mueller wrote: “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
At Justice Department headquarters, reporters buzzed around, hearing from Barr and awaiting the Mueller report. A few blocks away, there was calm on one of the defining days of Trump’s presidency
The news media were led into the White House East Room, just before the report came out, for Trump’s appearance with wounded warriors. While newsrooms across the country digested the report, the White House guests, already seated while waiting for the president to arrive, were entertained by the U.S. Marine Band. Among the selections played: “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Democrats criticized Barr for a news conference they said amounted to an attempt to frame the findings before the report was released. But it appeared to be the latest move by Trump and his allies to try and shape the narrative surrounding the investigation — featuring his incessant tweeting of “No Collusion” and his attacks on the credibility of the investigators in hopes of undermining their findings.
The White House seized upon Barr’s four-page summary last month as vindication and played down the contents of the report itself.
“Knockout,” read a text message from Rudy Giuliani, one of the president’s attorneys, to reporters after Barr finished speaking.
A further statement from Giuliani and Trump’s lawyers said “the report itself is nothing more than an attempt to rehash old allegations” and insisted that “the results of the investigation are a total victory for the president.”
Trump’s re-election campaign manager, Brad Parscale, said, “Now the tables have turned, and it’s time to investigate the liars who instigated this sham investigation into President Trump, motivated by political retribution and based on no evidence whatsoever.”
The president and his allies have portrayed House Democrats’ investigations as partisan overreach. They have targeted news outlets and individual reporters they say have promoted the collusion story. The president seethed at a recent political rally that the whole thing was an attempt “to tear up the fabric of our great democracy.”
He has told confidants in recent days that he was certain the full report would back up his claims of vindication but was also convinced that the media would manipulate the findings in an effort to damage him.
Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writer Darlene Superville contributed to this report.