Complete exoneration? Not quite. But Mueller’s report was a gift to Trump | Opinion

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall in Tampa, Florida, on July 31, 2018. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

By E. Fletcher McClellan

After months complaining about a “witch hunt,” Special Counsel Robert Mueller handed President Donald Trump a political gift last weekend.

According to Attorney General William Barr, Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to indict Trump officials of conspiring with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.

As to whether the president obstructed justice, Barr explained in a summary of Mueller’s report, the Special Counsel did not reach a conclusion. Barr and the Deputy Attorney General, Rod Rosenstein, subsequently determined that there was insufficient evidence to establish that crimes were committed.

Trump and his supporters immediately claimed victory: “No collusion. No obstruction. Complete and Total EXONERATION,” the president tweeted.

Republican members of Pennsylvania’s Congressional delegation did not hesitate to support the president. U.S. Rep. John Joyce, R-13th District, called on both parties “to put this combative time in our nation’s history behind us and get back to work for the American people….”

U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, repeated the words of House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La: “I’m glad Attorney General Barr has acted swiftly to release the conclusions of this report that vindicates President Trump and gives credence to the claims that this was a witch hunt that cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars.”

Displaying his usual boldness, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., said he was pleased that Mueller “was allowed to complete his investigation unimpeded.”

On the other hand, Pennsylvania Democrats questioned Trump’s declaration of innocence. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey D-Pa.,  expressed “concern that the issue of obstruction of justice remained an open question.”

Along with Casey, freshmen Democratic U.S Reps. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District; Mary Gay Scanlon, D-5th District, and Susan Wild, D-7th District, demanded the full release of Mueller’s report.

Democrats are likely to be disappointed with Barr’s response.

A Justice Department spokesperson said it would take weeks to release the report. Redactions will be made to exclude grand jury testimony, material that could be used in ongoing investigations, and possible claims of presidential privilege.

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 24: Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks after attending church on March 24, 2019 in Washington, DC. Special counsel Robert Mueller has delivered his report on alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election to Attorney General William Barr. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

In the meantime, the White House has not responded to requests from the chairs of House  committees for information related to the Mueller inquiry or any other matter of oversight.

This should give the president and his allies plenty of time to bash Democrats and the media for their relentless focus on the Trump-Russia affair. Trump called his accusers “treasonous,” while his advisors are demanding apologies.

The president is hardly out of the woods. The trial of his advisor Roger Stone, allegedly the go-between between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, is set for next fall.

State and federal prosecutors in New York and elsewhere; state attorneys general, and private lawsuits are examining Trump’s financial conflicts-of-interest and possible wrongdoing by the Trump Organization, Trump Foundation, and the Trump inaugural committee.

The Mueller probe was hardly a witch-hunt. The Barr summary letter confirmed what the intelligence community knew in 2016: Russia actively interfered in the election in order to make Donald Trump the President of the United States.

From Mueller and related inquiries we learned that numerous Trump advisors lied to cover up their contacts with Russian officials and representatives. There were over 100 such contacts.

While running for president, Trump pursued a business deal to build a Trump hotel in Moscow.  His advisors discussed lifting economic sanctions on Russia before and after Trump became president.

With the help of the publisher of the National Enquirer, Trump bought the silence of mistresses during the campaign.

It may turn out that the abrupt end of the Special Counsel investigation was a gift to Democrats too. Instead of waiting for Mueller to provide the basis for impeachment, House leaders can concentrate on the policy issues that won them the majority in the 2018 midterm elections.

On health care in particular, the Trump administration just gave Democrats an opening by supporting a lawsuit that would terminate the Affordable Care Act, including requirements that health insurance be provided for people with pre-existing conditions.

This does not mean that Democrats – and even some Republicans – will cease trying to hold Trump accountable. Let us not forget that bipartisan majorities disapproved of Trump’s declaration of a national emergency over immigration.

Nor should we forget that the president continues to treat Vladimir Putin as if nothing happened in 2016. There is no indication that Trump is taking seriously the threat of another Russian attack on our elections in 2020.

Thanks to Mueller and Barr, why should he?

Opinion contributor E. Fletcher McClellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College. His work appears frequently on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.

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