The Mueller report says Russia’s Government felt it would benefit from a Trump presidency. (AP: Jussi Nukari/Lehtikuva)
Donald Trump started the day with a bold prediction.
“For the haters and the radical left democrats, Game Over,” he tweeted.
His hand-picked Attorney-General William Barr tried to reinforce the theme.
The Mueller report, he said, had effectively cleared the Commander-in-Chief.
Reporters were quick to point out that it’s hardly a sign of bravery to climb the podium and face a press pack that has not been allowed to see the report you’re speaking about.
And as soon as it was published, it became clear things were not as rosy for Team Trump as they’d initially been portrayed.
The Mueller inquiry may not have found sufficient evidence the President, his aides and associates conspired with Kremlin agents to win the 2016 election, but it hardly paints them in a good light.
They’re accused of deleting “relevant communications” and some of their lies “materially impaired the investigation into Russian election interference”.
And then, there’s the question of whether the President broke the law by getting in the way of the inquiry.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mr Mueller’s team wrote.
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgement.”
That’s well and truly enough for his Democratic opponents to keep on digging.
For them, it’s now game on.
The report kicks off with an Australian connection
The report, which is divided into two parts, is packed with little snippets of information that even a casual observer would find intriguing.
For example, on page one, Volume I, Australia’s very own Alexander Downer makes an appearance.
George Papadopoulos’s links with former Australian foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer feature on page one. (Reuters/AAP)
He’s the “foreign” government representative who passed on former Trump adviser George Papadopoulos’s claims that the Russian Government had dirt on Mr Trump’s democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
Information he sent to Canberra, which was eventually given to Washington, caused the FBI to start investigating whether Trump campaign associates were colluding with the Kremlin.
As the report was released, the President’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani even seemed to bizarrely suggest to Fox News that the whole thing could have been a set-up.
Jeremy Barr tweet: A widely grinning Rudy Giuliani appearing now for an interview on Fox News. He says: “We’re very, very happy. It’s a clear victory.”
But I digress.
Volume I lays out the ways in which Russia, via social media posts and email hacks, “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion”.
“The Russian Government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency,” the report states.
It details the various ways some of the characters surrounding Mr Trump in the early days of his campaign interacted with Russians connected to the Kremlin.
[trump high five]
After going through the first 199 pages, you get the impression that the two sides looked at each other across the room, exchanged pleasantries and even flirted a bit, but ultimately Mr Mueller’s team decided their interactions were above board.
This neatly sums it up:
“While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian Government and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
‘This is terrible, this is the end of my presidency, I’m f***ed’
Investigators also clearly grappled with a couple of bigger questions.
Why did so many people they interviewed lie? Why did others delete encrypted communication?
They make clear it made connecting the dots much more challenging. This curious phrase stands out:
“A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”
Despite that, it’s the second volume that is understandably getting the most attention, particularly from Democrats who sense an opening.
There are a few quotes fit for tabloid headlines.
“Oh my god, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency, I’m f***ed,” Mr Trump reportedly said when he first heard the Mueller inquiry was being set up.
“This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
His written testimony is intriguing too.
“The president stated on more than 30 occasions that he ‘does not recall’ or ‘remember’ or have an ‘independent recollection’ of information called for by the questions,” the investigators write.
Other answers were “incomplete or imprecise”.
But it’s the many ways the President tried to thwart the investigation that are most interesting and significant.
Mr Mueller’s team details 10 specific episodes in which Mr Trump attacked the inquiry, sought to control it and tried to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.
For example, the report says that Mr Trump called White House Counsel Don McGahn at home and “directed him to call the Acting Attorney-General and say that the special counsel had conflicts of interest and must be removed”.
Mr McGahn decided he would rather resign than carry out the deed.
So, the President asked two other officials to intervene on his behalf. Both refused.
Oh, and when the press found out about the incident with Mr McGahn, Mr Trump personally asked Mr McGahn to dispute the story.
Michael Flynn is one of the members of Trump’s team who was officially convicted. (AP: Carolyn Kaster)
The report makes clear investigators wrestled over whether the President’s actions amounted to an indictable offense — obstruction of justice.
They ultimately decided not to recommend charges, due to legal constraints, but they — quite pointedly — also did not exonerate him.
Funnily enough, the report suggests that Mr Trump’s aides could have helped save him from himself.
If they hadn’t refused to carry out the orders, the obstruction question might be a slightly easier thing to answer.
What happens next?
So, in the end for Mr Mueller the answer was far from a black and white, but Attorney-General Barr doesn’t see it that way.
He told reporters the President did not act with corrupt intent and said Mr Trump had “sincere” feelings that the investigation was undermining his office.
No, the Democrats are not going to immediately buy that.
Brian Schatz tweet: Look, I didn’t realize the President was frustrated. That changes everything
Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman, said the Attorney-General has “showed an unsettling willingness to undermine his own department”.
Some of his colleagues have reportedly said the issue of impeachment is no longer settled.
Congressional investigations will continue — testimony from Mr Mueller is likely to be a highlight.
The White House, however, is still claiming victory.
Julia Ioffe tweet: Judging by my Twitter feed, the #MuellerReport is nothing more than a 400-page Rorschach test
Donald Trump’s legal team has declared, “the report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction”.
And they claimed that “the report itself is nothing more than an attempt to rehash old allegations”.
But at an absolute minimum, this document provides ample fodder for Mr Trump’s opponents.
They’ll use it to attack him right up to November 2020 and the next presidential election.