More than 675 days, 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, 2,800 subpoenas, and 500 search warrants later, Attorney General William Barr has announced the core finding of Robert Mueller’s Russia probe: no collusion. The verdict was quickly celebrated by a White House legal team whose strategy was to treat the investigation more as a public-relations battle than as strictly a legal fight.
In a letter delivered on Sunday afternoon to Congress, Barr summarized Mueller’s principal conclusions, marking the end of an inquiry that shadowed Donald Trump’s presidency from the start and led to the indictment or conviction of a raft of campaign aides and associates. Barr wrote that according to Mueller, neither the Trump campaign nor anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russians to win the election—despite “multiple offers” from “Russian-affiliated individuals” to assist the campaign. Mueller’s findings on whether Trump obstructed justice were far less definitive. Unlike on collusion, Barr wrote, Mueller was unable to make a judgment one way or the other: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
It was enough for the White House, however, to claim victory. If Trump’s team had one overarching theory since the special counsel’s probe began, it was that Mueller posed less of a legal threat than a political problem. Mueller’s conclusions, as explained by Barr on Sunday, appeared to vindicate that approach. Now, in a supreme irony, Trump figures to invoke the Mueller report in his 2020 reelection bid, making the case that an inquiry he labeled a “witch hunt” failed to prove any criminality, said campaign and legal associates, who requested anonymity in order to speak freely.