By ANDREW RESTUCCIA, GABBY ORR, and DARREN SAMUELSOHN
On Sunday, he got some backup from special counsel Robert Mueller.
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"The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," Mueller wrote in his final reported, according to a four-page summary of the findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General Bill Barr.
The president and his advisers immediately declared victory.
“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Trump tweeted, later telling reporters before boarding Air Force One, “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this.”
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a statement saying the findings “are a total and complete exoneration of the president of the United States.”
Speaking later on Air Force One, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the president was in “a really good mood.”
“Donald Trump has been put in this horrible position for the last three years,“ said Gidley, who said Trump had been briefed by attorneys Pat Cipollone and Emmet Flood.
He also said it was fair to say Trump had been exonerated even though Mueller didn’t come out and say that: “Prosecutors don’t exonerate, they prosecute. They don’t prove a negative. That’s just silly.”
For the president, who has obsessed over the investigation in private for months, Sunday’s news offered vindication, and Trump’s allies were already launching a public I-told-you-so campaign, arguing that Democrats and the media were blinded by their alleged disdain for the president.
“After more than 2 years of non-stop conspiracy theories from CNN, MSNBC, BuzzFeed and the rest of the mainstream media, as well as daily lies and smears coming from Democrats in Washington, the Mueller Report proves what those of us with sane minds have known all along, there was ZERO collusion with Russia,” the president’s son, Donald Trump, Jr., said in a statement.
He continued, "Sadly, instead of apologizing for needlessly destabilizing the country in a transparent attempt to delegitimize the 2016 election, it's clear that the Collusion Truthers in the media and the Democrat Party are only going to double down on their sick and twisted conspiracy theories moving forward.”
Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale used the report to construct a new message against the Democratic Party ahead of 2020, arguing that Mueller’s findings prove that Democrats “failed once and they will fail again” in their efforts to prove wrongdoing by the president.
“Their dirty tricks have not ended,” Parscale said in a statement that accused Democrats of pursuing a “frantic, chaotic, conspiracy-laden roller coasts for two years.”
Barr’s letter comes after Trump spent a relaxing weekend at his private Mar-a-Lago club here, playing golf and socializing with his longtime defenders. Aides said he was in good spirits, buoyed by the widespread belief among his supporters that the final report would be a bust.
In lieu of his typical tirades against the Mueller “witch hunt,” he dashed off a pair of simple tweets Friday morning, breaking an unusual nearly-40-hour streak of Twitter silence.
“Good Morning, Have A Great Day!” he wrote just after 8 a.m., followed by, “MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN !” Trump later made the short trek to his nearby golf course for a round with his acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and former South Carolina Congressman Trey Gowdy.
White House aides and others close to Trump insisted early Sunday that the president was in good spirits, despite the impending release of a summary of Mueller’s findings. It helped that Trump began the day in his happy place, mingling with like-minded Mar-a-Lago guests and spending hours on the golf course away from cable news and Twitter, which has often set the president off.
“The president is in a remarkably good mood,” Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani told POLITICO on Sunday morning. “He’s never terribly bothered by these things. The only time the president has ever been bothered is when they go after other people. When they go after the people that work with him, he feels they’re paying a very unfair price.”
In the hours leading up to the public release of Mueller’s findings, Trump received overwhelming reassurance from senior advisers, attorneys and friends that he shouldn’t be worried, according to people familiar with the matter.
Many of those same confidantes pointed to one recent development to bolster their case that the big Mueller reveal would be a bust: the news that Mueller’s office would not recommend any further indictments. Critics of the president have long questioned whether any of his family members who served on Trump’s 2016 campaign would become entangled in Mueller’s finding, with a particular focus on the president’s eldest son, Don Jr.
Speaking before Barr’s letter, Giuliani said he was not concerned that Mueller still had sealed indictments related to the Russia probe, after a senior DOJ official on Friday told reporters that the special counsel would not be filing any new indictments tied to his investigation. Barr’s statement Sunday put that question to rest.
Some Trump advisers were shocked that he didn’t tweet on Sunday about the pending Mueller news. The first official statement from the White House about the report’s findings came from Sanders, ditching a routine that has normally involved a presidential tweet followed by official statement on most breaking news items.
But aides said Trump was largely pleased with public criticism of Mueller over the weekend from his friends and advisers and didn’t feel compelled to join in.
The president’s supporters took glee in publicly bashing Democrats and reporters for spending so much time obsessing over the Mueller investigation. “Mainstream media now at a crossroads. Will they admit fault for fake Russia hoax and go back to actual journalism or continue with their @realDonaldTrump Derangement Syndrome,” Trump ally David Bossie wrote on Twitter soon after news broke that Mueller had completed his investigation. “I think I know the answer.”
In the coming days, Trump allies plan to continue to cast Democrats and the media as the ringleaders of a partisan fishing expedition, betting that the public will empathize with the president in the absence of the game-changing revelations contained in Mueller’s report.
“Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down,” said Graham, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna McDaniel called for Democrats to put an end to “their baseless investigations and political crusade against President Trump for the good of the country.” At least two investigations involving the president’s inaugural committee and former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York remain ongoing, neither of which are controlled by congressional Democrats.
Barr, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and their senior aides spent Saturday reviewing Mueller’s report before it’s release Sunday afternoon. Justice Department officials are also embarking on a larger review of the whole Mueller document amid a clamor from lawmakers for its near complete release.
Mueller’s office, meanwhile, is closing up shop.
Barr said in his Friday letter to Congress that he’d be consulting with the special counsel about what information he could release to Congress and the public about the nearly two-year old Russia probe. At the same time, Mueller spokesman Peter Carr said Mueller planned to conclude his service in the “coming days” while a few support staff remain on board to shutter the office.
Carr also confirmed on Sunday morning that plans are being implemented to hand off Mueller’s active cases, with the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington D.C., taking over Roger Stone’s trial that is slated to begin in early November and the sentencing for Rick Gates that has been repeatedly delayed over the last year while the former Trump campaign deputy cooperated in several ongoing investigations.
Federal prosecutors in D.C. will also handle Mueller’s case against Concord Management and Consulting, Carr said. The Russian-based company led by a close associate of President Vladimir Putin has hired American lawyers and is demanding a trial to fight back against charges it helped orchestrate the massive online campaign to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
No final decisions have been made yet, Carr added, over who will take the lead on two other high-profile active Mueller cases: the sentencing for Michael Flynn, the former Trump national security adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI, and efforts to force compliance with a subpoena against Andrew Miller, a Stone associate who last month lost in federal appeals court in his attempt to have the Mueller appointment tossed out as unconstitutional.