Sunday 20 October 2019

Ben Riley Smith: 'Only thing that saved president was that his orders were ignored'

Tweet: Donald Trump posted this image based on 'Game of Thrones'
Tweet: Donald Trump posted this image based on 'Game of Thrones'

Ben Riley Smith

Donald Trump was saved from himself. That, in a nutshell, was the most fascinating finding from Robert Mueller as the report Washington has been waiting on for almost two years finally landed yesterday.

Mr Mueller's conclusion on Russian election interference, the reason this probe began in the first place, and which made up volume one of his 448-page findings, was already known. Neither Mr Trump nor his advisers had conspired with the Kremlin to tilt the 2016 presidential vote, Mr Mueller had decided - as outlined in a summary released last month by Mr Trump's attorney general.

But it was over allegations of obstruction of justice - an area on which last month's report summary had been much more opaque - that the real interest lay. Here, Mr Mueller spelt out in forensic detail some 11 separate episodes in which Mr Trump's behaviour towards the investigation was, at best, questionable.

One involved phoning his legal counsel from Camp David on a Saturday, telling him that "Mueller had to go", and urging him to make the relevant call to the official overseeing the investigation.

Another saw Mr Trump meet alone with a former campaign manager in the Oval Office, dictate a message limiting the investigation's scope and ask for it to be delivered to a cabinet minister.

If either the legal counsel or the campaign manager had carried out their task - following through on the president's orders - then Mr Trump would be in a much worse situation.

In the end, Mr Mueller took a pass. He did not "exonerate" Mr Trump on obstruction of justice, as the president has previously claimed, but nor did he conclude a crime had been committed. William Barr, Mr Trump's recently appointed attorney general, claimed that the bar for the crime of obstruction had not been met.

The Democrats yesterday were unusually quiet, attacking the process but steering clear of the report's contents.

Team Trump, on the other hand, claimed "total victory" - even if the findings fell well short of that.

Now the row turns to the court of public opinion.

Impeachment has largely faded from view. With Mr Trump cleared on the issue of conspiring with Russia and with just 19 months left to the US election, it has dropped off the political agenda.

Expect candidates vying for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination to focus on Mr Trump's immigration policies and wider behaviour in office, rather than his links to Russia in the coming months.

Voters can now read Mr Mueller's redacted report and decide for themselves. But will many change their mind? Don't hold your breath.

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