WASHINGTON (Reuters) – US Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion that Donald Trump did not collude with Russia to win the presidency in 2016 gives the president a powerful weapon to use against his Democratic opponents and a potential boost to what is shaping up to be a tough bid for re-election in 2020.
Mr Mueller’s conclusion that neither Mr Trump nor his aides conspired with Russia in 2016 takes away a central charge that Democrats have flung at Mr Trump for two years – that he did not win the presidency fairly or cleanly. The allegations have played out on an endless loop on cable TV news shows, overshadowing Mr Trump’s presidency from day one.
Democrats have vowed to continue congressional investigations into the 2016 election campaign and Mr Trump’s business practices. But without the solid foundation of a Mueller report that found evidence of any crimes by the president, they now risk seeming to overplay their hand.
“This is a gold star day for Donald Trump,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley. “Now the shackles are off. He’s able to demonise the news media and Democrats as perpetuating what he calls a hoax. And he’ll be able to use his innocence as fodder for the campaign trail.”
The question for Mr Trump now is whether he will be able to bring a minimum of discipline to his campaign messaging and to the presidency itself.
History suggests he will have trouble with self-discipline. Just last week, he was immersed in a strange fight with a dead man, sharply criticising the late Republican Senator John McCain and falsely accusing him of being at the root of some of the collusion allegations against him.
He has also been prone to making baffling abrupt decisions, such as occurred last week when he called off a round of sanctions against North Korea before they had even been imposed.
Despite the Mueller report’s conclusions, Mr Trump remains an intemperate president, eager to lash out at any and all critics and perceived slights.
Mr Trump, on a golfing weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, got the news in his private quarters at his Mar-a-Lago retreat from White House counsel Emmett Flood, and watched TV coverage of the Mueller report in his cabin on Air Force One.
Speaking to reporters before boarding Air Force One for the flight back to Washington, Mr Trump called for Democrats to be investigated, expanding on his often repeated assertion that the Mueller probe was Democrat-inspired. Mr Mueller was appointed by Trump’s Department of Justice in 2017 after he fired FBI director James Comey.
“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this,” Mr Trump said. “Before I even got elected it began, and it began illegally.”
Mr Trump’s path to re-election remains a perilous one. Analysts say he will probably need to win the Midwestern states of Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, just as he did in his improbable 2016 victory, and Democrats are already pouring resources into those states.
Mr Trump will foreshadow his campaign message on Thursday night when he headlines a “Make America Great Again” rally in Michigan.