A triumphant President Donald Trump emerged Sunday to claim “complete and total exoneration” after special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation found no evidence Trump or his campaign associates conspired with Russia to win the presidential election.
The report itself was more circumspect: in a letter to Congress, Attorney General William Barr said Mueller did not have enough evidence to prosecute Trump on obstruction charges, but did not exonerate him.
But the absence of clear evidence of wrongdoing was enough for Trump to boast of vindication after the nearly two-year cloud of the probe has lifted.
“It was just announced there was no collusion with Russia, the most ridiculous thing I ever heard. There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, none whatsoever,” Trump said, calling Mueller’s investigation “an illegal takedown that failed.”
Speaking to reporters on a tarmac before boarding Air Force One in Florida, Trump declared outright victory.
“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame your President had to go through since before I was even elected,” he said.
Instead of calling for the country to move forward, Trump insisted investigators now turn their attention to alleged misdeeds committed by Democrats, though he did not specify any particular targets.
“It began illegally, and hopefully somebody’s going to look at the other side,” he said implying the formation of Mueller’s special investigation could now be subject to scrutiny.
People close to the President told CNN he has remained fixated on one thing in the last several weeks — that he and his allies were harassed by investigators and that this should not happen to another president. These people believe that the President could potentially push for an investigation into how the Russia investigation began now that it has ended.
Whether that happens or not remains an open question. But for now, the President appears content to use Mueller’s conclusion that neither he nor his aides cooperated with Russia as a political bludgeon.
Until a tweet moments before his planeside comments, Trump had remained entirely silent this weekend — at least in public — about the conclusion of Mueller’s report. While he was cheered by news on Friday that Mueller would not issue any further indictments, he spent the weekend expressing cautious optimism while surrounded by his attorneys and had tweeted only twice, but privately he was telling people he did not know what Barr’s next move was.
Trump was in high spirits at his Mar-a-Lago Club Sunday afternoon after he was told by his legal team Sunday that the attorney general was set to release findings from the special counsel’s investigation, which said it did not find that his campaign colluded with Russia, sources tell CNN.
When Barr’s chief-of-staff phoned Trump lawyer Emmet Flood to provide a readout of the report, the mood at Mar-a-Lago improved immediately.
Much of Trump’s legal team — including Flood and White House lawyer Pat Cipollone — traveled with the President to Florida, as did a large coterie of senior aides. A person familiar with the matter said the group hoped to help shape Trump’s response to the investigation’s conclusion, conscious the moment would become an inflection point of Trump’s presidency.
That is part of the reason Trump avoided any mention of the report on Twitter for much of the weekend, sending only two tweets between Friday afternoon and Sunday evening. One wished his followers: “Have a great day!”
That was in contrast to the more-than 50 tweets he issued last weekend, a stream of anger and vitriol that some aides speculated was pent-up frustration at the then-ongoing Mueller probe.
The mood on Air Force One back to Washington was jovial, one person told CNN. But Trump’s associates who were ensnared in the investigation fumed Sunday as they reflected on how much they spent on legal fees for the investigation, two people tell CNN. Several current and former Trump officials from his campaign and administration retained personal lawyers to help them respond to questions throughout the investigation.
This story has been updated.