President Donald Trump had plenty to say on Twitter in the run-up to Attorney General William Barr’s news conference, and then after the publication of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Thursday. He reiterated what he’s said from the start: “No Collusion - No Obstruction!” One thing he didn’t do? Acknowledge what his intelligence agencies, as well as their counterparts in Britain and Germany, congressional investigations, and even Barr himself, have said—that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Trump’s reaction to Mueller’s investigation has been consistent since the special counsel began his inquiry nearly two years ago. The president has denied wrongdoing, played the victim, and refrained from criticizing Russia’s role in the election.
And so it was Thursday. The attorney general elaborated on how the Internet Research Agency, which has close links to the Russian government, worked to sow discord among Americans online, as well as how the GRU, the Russian spy agency, attempted to hack computers belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton, Trump’s election rival, and ultimately transferred some of the documents to WikiLeaks, the whistle-blowing organization. But the bottom line, Barr said in his remarks to the media, was that while “the Special Counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election … [he] did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts.”
The president appears to have heard only one part of that statement—the one that exculpates him.
To be fair, Trump’s reaction is that of a man who says he was unjustly accused of a crime that could have cost him his election victory. According to Mueller’s report, Trump even said that the special counsel’s appointment marked “the end of my presidency.” Still, while the Mueller report might have cleared the president of collusion and indeed obstruction of justice, it confirms what American intelligence agencies have been saying since Trump’s unexpected win over Clinton: that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. The president has commented on one part of that—the accusations against him—but has declined to criticize Russia publicly for anything it has done.
Trump’s silence on Russia’s role pre-dates the Mueller report’s release, and indeed his presidency. He has a history of either blaming others for what Russia did, or equivocating about the Kremlin’s role in the 2016 election. He has variously blamed the DNC (yes, the same one that got hacked), China, “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs 400 pounds,” or “some guy in his home in New Jersey.” On the rare occasion that he has agreed with the assessment of the overwhelming majority of U.S. intelligence agencies on Moscow’s role, Trump has quickly pivoted, as he did during his famous news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” the president said at the time. “Could be other people also. There’s a lot of people out there.”
On Thursday, even that ambiguity was gone. He had two words for “the haters”: game over.