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WASHINGTON — Like any master showman, President Donald Trump surely knows the goods can’t stay hidden from the audience forever.
The Mueller Report will come out.
There’s pressure from Trump’s presidential rivals and from Congress — the House recently voted unanimously for its release. The president himself has said he favors putting it out. And there’s a long history of government documents, from the Pentagon Papers to the Iran/Contra report and the Starr report, making their way into the public domain through authorized release, congressional dump and just plain old leaking.
Like Trump himself said, that might be exactly what he wants.
If he’s exonerated, he’ll be the first to shout “NO COLLUSION!” from the Twitter mountaintops and from campaign rallies in the valleys of the Midwest.
“Without an indictment against him, Trump is going to hammer home the waste of time, taxpayer money and resources to prove that he was right all along and that he did nothing wrong,” said Ron Bonjean, a veteran Republican strategist who helped shepherd Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch through the Senate confirmation process.
Trump may do that even if the report casts brutal aspersions on his activities and those of his family and friends — or if it delivers a mixed bag of reasons that special counsel Robert Mueller declined to prosecute certain individuals in the Trump orbit.
After all, Trump’s no stranger to spin.
The bottom line for him, and for GOP voters, is that Mueller didn’t file charges against him.
But without seeing the report, it’s hard to know at this time whether the decision not to prosecute amounts to a vindication for Trump, said former federal prosecutor Joyce White Vance.
“If Mueller declined to prosecute because there was insufficient evidence, that’s hardly exoneration,” she said. “And if he didn’t indict Trump only because of the (Justice Department) policy against indicting a sitting president, that’s as far from a clean bill of health as you can get.”
The only way to get answers, she said, is if Attorney General William Barr turns everything over. Even then, she added, “Trump would do well to remember the ‘collusion’ is not the only crime in the federal code and that there are ongoing investigations, including of his inauguration, his businesses and his foundation, in multiple jurisdictions — he is still ‘Individual 1’ in a (U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York) indictment.”
Democrats are just beginning a sprawling set of probes on Capitol Hill, and they are certain to use whatever kernels they can find in the Mueller report and whatever dirt they turn up with subpoenas and oversight hearings to try to convince the electorate that Trump is unfit for a second term.
They may even try to impeach him in the House. But the bar for removing the president from office — already high because it would take 20 Republican senators to flip on Trump — will be much higher absent an independent investigator finding criminal wrongdoing on his part.
It’s hard to imagine the report won’t be made public — and soon. If not, Trump’s re-election campaign would undoubtedly be hamstrung by the kind of unanswered questions that dogged Hillary Clinton about her e-mails in the 2016 campaign.
Though Democrats, including the 2020 presidential candidates, were quick to demand the report’s release, there was support for that position on the Republican side of the aisle in Congress, too.
“Attorney General Barr should release the report to the public as soon as possible, while accommodating national security considerations,” Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement released Friday night.
Trump himself said earlier this week: “Let it come out. Let people see it.”
If the report clears him — or if he’s able to effectively portray it that way — he will no doubt be emboldened in his dealings with his own Justice Department, other federal agencies and Congress, a scenario that portends even more brutal fights between a president who is already unabashed in his attacks against Washington norms, institutions and political players of both parties.
“If you come at the king, you best not miss,” Bonjean said. “Trump is going to be unleashed in a way we haven’t seen before — with a renewed fury.”