On the evening Robert Mueller submitted his report to the Justice Department, ending the special counsel investigation that has clouded all but a few months of his presidency, President Donald Trump was not huddled in a war room or dictating defiant tweets to his underlings.
Instead he was on the tiled patio of Mar-a-Lago, bathed in golden light, with his wife and son Barron, who had reached teenagerhood two days earlier.
In the eyes of the President and his aides, many of whom traveled to South Florida for the weekend, it was a moment to celebrate: the conclusion of an investigation that did not find enough evidence to indict the President or his confidants for conspiring with Russia to win the 2016 election.
Whether the end of Mueller’s probe means the end of Trump’s long legal albatross, or just the beginning, is largely a matter for Congress and the various other prosecutors who have taken on ancillary investigations.
Even as Mueller’s team vacates the bland Washington office building where he’s been working every day since May 2017, another struggle is beginning, opening a new chapter Trump will try to control but which he will write only part of the script.
Still, Trump and his allies are already signaling the report is an unequivocal victory, once that exonerates the President from the various misdeeds — collusion, obstruction — that his opponents have used as bywords for what they regard as a shambolic presidency.
While there was not a strict plan in place ahead of the report’s conclusion, Trump and his Republican allies immediately launched an effort to cast the document as absolving him of wrongdoing.
Talking points distributed by the Republican National Committee encouraged Trump’s allies to stress that “after two years, millions of taxpayer dollars, and multiple congressional investigations confirming there was no collusion, it’s good this report has finally concluded.”