Trump Pushes Mueller Report As A Total Win — Even Though It Hasn't Been Released Yet

Apr 17, 2019
Originally published on April 17, 2019 6:49 pm
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Tomorrow, Attorney General Bill Barr is expected to release a redacted copy of the Mueller report to the public and to Congress. Very few people have had a chance to read the report so far, including President Trump. But that has not stopped him or his team from spending weeks pushing it as a total win. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: It was a Sunday afternoon in late March when Attorney General Bill Barr delivered a letter to Congress outlining the principal conclusions of the Mueller report. And just minutes later, President Trump made a statement on the tarmac in Florida.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It has just announced there was no collusion with Russia - the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction and none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.

KEITH: In a legal takedown that failed, he said. In reality, the Barr letter quoted Mueller's report sparingly. It said the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

But when it came to obstruction of justice, Mueller left it unresolved. Quote, "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him." Barr then weighed in, determining there was not a case to prosecute on obstruction against the president. Still, by the next morning, Trump's aides were filling the airwaves with one message.

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UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP AIDE #1: There has been no collusion. There is no obstruction. And it's a complete and total exoneration.

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UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP AIDE #2: They know there was no collusion. They know there was no obstruction. And it's a complete and total exoneration.

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UNIDENTIFIED TRUMP AIDE #3: No obstructive activity, no collusion, no conspiracy.

KEITH: Again, to be clear - on obstruction, Mueller did not exonerate the president. No matter - by the end of the week, President Trump was celebrating with an arena full of supporters.

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TRUMP: The Russia hoax is finally dead.

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TRUMP: The collusion delusion is over.

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KEITH: In the same speech, Trump mocked the congressional Democrats still investigating him and his administration. Sam Nunberg, who was an early consultant for the Trump campaign and was interviewed by Mueller's team, says there is a method to all of this. In part, Trump is speaking to his base voters.

SAM NUNBERG: This president needs to continue to keep his strong support as well as veer into setting the narrative against whatever the Democrats are going to do to try to weaponize the Mueller report, which I always thought, even with Barr's letter, was going to have plenty of nuggets in there and bullets for the Democrats.

KEITH: So when the attorney general said at a congressional hearing that, quote, "spying did occur on the 2016 Trump campaign," President Trump pounced.

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TRUMP: In my opinion, it was illegal spying, unprecedented spying and something that should never be allowed to happen in our country again. And I think his answer was actually a very accurate one.

KEITH: What Barr actually said was that he had no specific evidence of improper surveillance but felt it should be investigated. Evans Witt, a longtime political pollster, says all the White House messaging has had little impact on public opinion. Recent polls found a majority of Americans still have a lot of questions about the Mueller report, and there's been no significant movement in the president's approval rating. He says Trump and his aides are just doing what they always do.

EVANS WITT: They've declared victory. If the facts get in the way of that some point down the road, they've already declared victory. And I think that has an impact with the people who believe what the president says and support him. For others, it's less important.

KEITH: And that's the thing in the Trump era. The normal rules don't apply because opinions about the president are so hardened, says Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Poll.

LEE MIRINGOFF: In old political terms, if you're given a month where you can keep, you know, hammering away on the message and the other side isn't defending themselves, that used to move numbers in a big way - right now not having an impact 'cause it's all about Trump.

KEITH: It's possible the full Mueller report could change the dynamic, though through good times and bad, the president's approval rating has been essentially stuck in the same small range his whole time in office. Tamara Keith, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.