President Donald Trump opined on special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on Tuesday, saying during brief remarks he made to reporters, “The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better.”
But he didn’t stop there. He went on to claim, “It said, ‘no obstruction, no collusion.’ It could not have been better.”
I asked Trump about the Mueller report saying that while he didn't commit a crime, it also does not exonerate him on obstruction. He said: "The Mueller report was great. It could not have been better. It said no obstruction, no collusion. It could not have been better." pic.twitter.com/tt0JWBgF29
— Manu Raju (@mkraju) March 26, 2019
But Trump is talking about a report he reportedly hasn’t even seen yet. Not only has the public not had access to the Mueller report, but the White House hasn’t either. ABC reported that, as of Tuesday afternoon, neither Trump nor his attorneys have even been briefed about it. The president’s comments pertain to a summary of the report written by his hand-picked attorney general, Bill Barr — and the letter Barr submitted to Congress stops well short of exonerating Trump of obstruction of justice.
In one of the few parts of the summary that quotes directly from Mueller’s report, it says, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Barr and another Trump-selected DOJ official, deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, made the subsequent (and entirely unsurprising) decision not to pursue obstruction charges against the president.
Trump and his supporters haven’t let the facts get in the way of their talking point that Barr’s letter represents a “total vindication” of the president — using it to attack Democrats and the media for “delusion” about the Russia story.
The Mainstream Media is under fire and being scorned all over the World as being corrupt and FAKE. For two years they pushed the Russian Collusion Delusion when they always knew there was No Collusion. They truly are the Enemy of the People and the Real Opposition Party!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 26, 2019
Barr’s summary indicates that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russia government in its election interference activities.” That carefully worded phrase does not rule out that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russians or Kremlin agents who were not part of the Russian government, nor does it rule out that collusion occurred outside the realm of “election interference activities.”
Indeed, there’s plenty of evidence of suspicious and unexplained activity relating to the Trump campaign and Russian individuals and allies, and media reports about what we know haven’t, by any means, been discredited.
As Vox’s Andrew Prokop laid out in his explainer on what we already know about what Mueller found, there was quite a lot of contact between Trumpworld and Russia and lies about it that haven’t yet been explained:
— The Russian government did try to interfere in the 2016 election to hurt Hillary Clinton’s candidacy and benefit Trump.
— It did so through a social media propaganda operation, and by hacking and leakingleading Democrats’ emails.
— Some Trump associates seem to have had some advance knowledge of the email leaks — but Mueller did not find that they conspired with Russian government officials about the leaks.
— The Trump Organization was secretly in talks for a potentially very lucrative Moscow real estate deal during the campaign, and Russian government officials were involved. Trump and members of his family were briefed several times on the project.
— Before the 2016 campaign, Paul Manafort organized an extensive unregistered lobbying and PR operation to benefit Ukraine’s government, involving a top US law firm and two major lobbying firms. He also laundered tens of millions of dollars from Ukrainian interests into the US, and didn’t pay taxes on it. Then, once he joined Trump’s campaign, Manafort allegedly handed over Trump polling data to a Russian intelligence-tied associate.
— Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos lied to the FBI about when he’d heard that Russia had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.
— Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about his conversations with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions.
— Trump lawyer Michael Cohen lied to Congress about the timing of the Trump Tower Moscow talks.
— Longtime Trump adviser Roger Stone allegedly lied to Congress about his efforts to get in touch with WikiLeaks to try to obtain hacked Democratic emails.
— Several actions from President Trump raised obstruction of justice concerns, and Mueller’s team laid out evidence about them but declined to say whether they were criminal.
Trump has been trying to spin the outcome of a politically damaging investigation that has been hanging over his presidency for two years in the best possible light, but all that can be safely inferred from Barr’s summary of the Mueller report is that the special counsel did not conclude the evidence rose to the level of conspiracy or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. That’s certainly good news for Trump, but to go further than that, we’d actually have to see the report.
That hasn’t been possible yet. In the meantime, the president is busy trying to mislead people into believing the final word has already been spoken, while his Republican backers oscillate between claiming total vindication and taking steps to prevent the actual Mueller report from being released.
The news moves fast. To stay updated, follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter, and read more of Vox’s policy and politics coverage.