AP NEWS

For Trump, the partisan ‘witch hunt’ isn’t over

March 22, 2019

The probe that never should have begun, run by prosecutors who have no authority to judge his presidency, produced a report that’s not worth the paper on which it’s written.

That was President Trump’s view of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, even before Mr. Mueller delivered his long-awaited report late Friday to Attorney General William P. Barr. The probe has dogged the president for more than half of his term, and promises to provide ammunition for Democrats all the way through 2020.

When the report finally came, Mr. Trump was far from Washington, ensconced in one of his favorite places Mar-a-Lago, his private oceanside club in Palm Beach, Florida. He is spending the weekend there after meeting Friday afternoon with leaders of Caribbean nations, and speaking by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The next steps are up to Attorney General Barr, and we look forward to the process taking its course,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Twitter. “The White House has not received or been briefed on the special counsel’s report.”

The first member of Mr. Trump’s family to comment publicly was the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., who tweeted simply, ”#CollusionTruthers.”

House Democrats are certain to use findings in the report to try to further their ongoing investigations of the president. But Mr. Trump and his team believe his cause will be helped in the process by Democrats overreaching and alienating swing voters.

Americans for Limited Government President Rick Manning noted that the Mueller report isn’t recommending any prosecutions for Russia collusion.

“Every media outlet owes President Trump a non-stop apology for their continued claims that there was a conspiracy and that his presidency was illegitimate,” Mr. Manning said. “Mueller ended his investigation with zero prosecutions of Trump campaign officials for conspiracy with Russia to hack the DNC and Podesta emails,” a reference to former Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta.

In the court of public opinion, the sheer length of the two-year-old Mueller probe could bolster the president’s view that the investigation was a “witch hunt.”

“I think the one thing that has hurt the Mueller investigation in the eyes of the public is how long it’s taken,” said Republican strategist Mark Corallo, a former Justice Department official who worked briefly on the president’s legal team. “You would think we would know by now whether there had been any overt or covert efforts by members of the Trump campaign to engage with the Russian government of Vladimir Putin to fix the election.”

The special counsel’s probe has already brought indictments against 34 individuals, including 25 Russians, and three corporations. Among them is the president’s first national security adviser, former Gen. Michael Flynn.

Less than a month into his presidency, Mr. Trump referred to the persistent accusations of collusion as “this Russian connection non-sense.” He soon began calling it a “hoax” and a “witch hunt.”

After his firing of FBI Director James Comey prompted the appointment of Mr. Mueller, however, the president wasn’t willing to take the politically radioactive step of firing the special counsel’s supervisor, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. So Mr. Trump spent nearly two years largely cooperating with the investigation privately while trying to undermine its legitimacy publicly.

His attacks on Mr. Mueller personally intensified, accusing the special counsel of being “conflicted.”

In the days before the report’s release, the president tried another line of attack: that Mr. Rosenstein and Mr. Mueller were not elected to do anything.

“I have a deputy, appoints a man to write a report on me, to make a determination on my presidency,” Mr. Trump told Fox Business Network this week. “People will not stand for it. I had one of the greatest election victories in history.”

Some observers said the president’s view ignores the role of law enforcement.

“There’s nothing illegitimate about the Justice Department conducting investigations under the purview of Article II of the Constitution,” Mr. Corallo said. “The president is the one who appoints the leadership of the federal agencies. They serve at his pleasure.”

Mr. Trump did indeed appoint Mr. Rosenstein, who assumed oversight of the special counsel probe when former Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, to the president’s everlasting criticism.