From a certain perspective—say, Donald Trump’s—the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation was a victory for Trump. Mueller delivered his report to Attorney General William Barr, who announced that it had not concluded that the president had committed obstruction of justice or illegally conspired with the Russian government. Trump has repeatedly celebrated that, including in a Tuesday morning tweet exulting, “No Collusion—No Obstruction!”
But it was a perverse victory, with Trump simply climbing out of a hole he had dug. It’s all but impossible to argue that Trump is politically better off than he would have been without the self-inflicted wound of the investigation—prompted by his dismissal of former FBI Director James Comey. And with a redacted version of Mueller’s report due to be released on Thursday, the president appears to be on the verge of committing the same error in responding to House investigations that he did with Mueller: stonewalling investigators, dragging out the process, and creating a public impression of guilt.
Although the collusion part of the Mueller investigation received the greater amount of attention—due in part to the salaciousness of the allegations, and due in part to the many instances of Trump campaign officials colluding with Russia—it was allegations of obstruction of justice that sparked the probe. The FBI had been investigating Russian interference in the election through standard channels until Trump’s decision to fire Comey over “this Russia thing” led Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to appoint Mueller as special counsel.