President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Warren, Democrats urge Trump to back down from veto threat over changing Confederate-named bases Esper orders ‘After Action Review’ of National Guard’s role in protests MORE has got a shot in the arm for his reelection campaign with the release of Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN’s Toobin warns McCabe is in ‘perilous condition’ with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill’s 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s core findings.
Democrats had hoped the president would be badly wounded by Mueller, the special counsel who investigated whether the 2016 Trump team colluded with Russia. But Mueller did not establish any such collusion took place after issuing more than 2,800 subpoenas during a 22-month investigation that involved around 40 FBI agents.
Some Trump critics are holding out hope that damaging information will yet come to light, either in the full Mueller report or through separate investigations into the president.
But other Democratic strategists insist the party needs to rethink its angle of attack as the 2020 campaign gets underway.
“Beating the Mueller drum is not going to work unless there is new information,” Democratic strategist Hank Sheinkopf told The Hill.
He is not the only one making the point.
Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell (D) told Fox News’s “America’s Newsroom” on Monday that Democrats “have to get back to doing the business of the people.” Effective legislation, rather than endless repetition of the collusion charge, is “the key to whether we will be successful in 2020,” Rendell said.
The previous day, in the immediate aftermath of the release of the letter from Attorney General William Barr summarizing Mueller’s findings, the Rev. Al Sharpton said on MSNBC that Democrats had to “zero in on the real concerns of American people” and avoid the temptation to “turn into lawyers on cable television.”
The chorus of concern from Democrats is one illustration of just how fast the tables have turned.
Among many progressive voters, there were sky-high expectations that Mueller might find incontrovertible evidence of criminality on the part of Trump or his immediate family members, laying the ground work for potential impeachment and removal from office. Instead, Mueller’s findings in essence echoed Trump’s famous refrain of “no collusion.”
The special counsel was a lot more equivocal on the issue of obstruction of justice. His report neither exonerated Trump on that point nor concluded he had committed a crime.
Mueller instead left the decision up to the top people at the Department of Justice — Barr and his deputy, Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinRepublicans release newly declassified intelligence document on FBI source Steele GOP’s Obama-era probes fuel Senate angst Graham postpones Russia probe subpoena vote as tensions boil over MORE. They concluded there was insufficient evidence to sustain a criminal case.
Democrats are deeply suspicious of that determination, given that both Barr and Rosenstein are Trump appointees — and the full text of the Mueller report is yet to be released.
Some assert that the current buoyant mood in the White House could be short-lived.
“It was a good day for the White House, in the sense that it got to define the narrative early,” said Democratic strategist Julie Roginsky. “It’s not necessarily a long-term victory. … I don’t know we have all the information yet.”
Still, it is notable that Democratic presidential hopefuls have not been leading the charge on Russia-related matters, beyond calling for the release of the full Mueller report.
Instead, congressional figures such as House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPhilonise Floyd asks Congress to deliver justice for his brother Floyd’s brother to testify in front of House Judiciary Committee hearing on police brutality House Judiciary Committee to hold hearing on police brutality next week MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffDemocrats introduce resolution condemning acts of violence against the press Schiff asks if defense resources provided intelligence during protests Schiff uses Tiananmen anniversary to condemn Trump’s response to protests MORE (D-Calif.) have been the tip of the Democratic spear.
Among Republicans, there is delight over the report — not least because it pushed Democrats onto the back foot and gave Trump loyalists ammunition with which to attack.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN on Monday morning, “Democrats and the media perpetuated that lie [of collusion] day in and day out, and breathlessly covered every second of negative attention that they thought would be the one moment that would bring this president down.”
Her remarks point to how Mueller’s summary findings help Trump sharpen one of his favorite cudgels — the charge of bias against the media.
One former White House official told The Hill, “I don’t get the sense that the media fully appreciates the damage they have done to their reputation and to the public’s psyche with the breathless negative coverage of this matter.”
The official added that, more generally, the summary of Mueller’s findings was “a boost for the president’s reelection chances as the dominant negative storyline from the last two years fade … ‘Democrats care more about bringing me down than lifting you up’ is a great argument for Trump.”
There are other advantages for Trump, too.
One is that the threat of impeachment is receding by the minute.
In an interview with The Washington Post earlier this month, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump on collision course with Congress over bases with Confederate names Black lawmakers unveil bill to remove Confederate statues from Capitol Pelosi: Georgia primary ‘disgrace’ could preview an election debacle in November MORE (D-Calif.) noted that she was opposed to impeachment unless there was an overwhelming consensus for it, given how divisive it could otherwise be.
Doug Heye, a former communications director of the Republican National Committee, pointed out that such a consensus is now out of reach.
“Clearly there is no Republican who is going to support [impeachment]. That is off the table,” he said.
Overall, Trump advocates argue that the end of the Mueller probe after almost two years could enable the president to fight for his reelection on more favorable grounds — playing his strongest electoral cards on topics such as the economy.
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) told The Washington Post in a story published Monday that the summary findings “clear the deck for there to be an evaluation based upon his record as president.”
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Heye put it even more pithily.
“He can go into [the campaign] now and say, ‘I told you so. I was right all along.’”
The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.