At 9:57 A.M. yesterday, Donald Trump tweeted a Game of Thrones-themed meme pre-emptively declaring the Mueller report a settled matter. “No Collusion. No Obstruction. For the haters and the radical left Democrats—Game Over,” the image read. For the president and his people, it turned out to be the best moment of the day. The mood began to darken during Attorney General William Barr’s stunning 22-minute news conference at the Justice Department, at which he defended his no-obstruction finding in the manner of a defense attorney and turned truculent at the first hint of hostile questioning before abruptly stalking off. “[Deputy Attorney General] Rod Rosenstein looked like a hostage standing there,” former Trump campaign official Sam Nunberg told me afterwards. “Barr even wore a Trump red tie.”
It took a while for the report’s full impact to sink in. “It’s good for our side, but the Democrats are finding things to bolster their side,” a former West Wing official interviewed by Mueller told me yesterday. “Everyone seems to have gotten what they wanted.” But as the day wore on, the equation became clearer. “A normal person would have been indicted for this,” said a Republican close to the White House. “The obstruction stuff is pretty damning,” Nunberg said.
Last night, the battle over the report’s findings played out split-screen-style on cable. On CNN, Anderson Cooper spent nearly eight minutes asking White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley to answer a basic question: “Did the president lie?” On Fox News, Sean Hannity gave White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a friendly platform to claim Trump had been totally vindicated. Of course, the report detailed an instance in which Sanders claimed at a May 10, 2017, news conference—the day after Trump fired F.B.I. Director James Comey—that she’d heard from “countless” F.B.I. members who were glad Trump dismissed Comey. Sanders admitted to investigators that she’d made it up, attributing the false statement to a “slip of the tongue.”
Kellyanne Conway told reporters at the White House that the release of the Mueller report was the “best day” of Trump’s presidency since his 2016 election. “I called this a political proctology exam,” Conway later said on Fox News, “and he’s emerging with a clean bill of health.” But last night, her husband, George Conway, published a remarkable op-ed in The Washington Post calling for Trump’s impeachment. “White House counsel John Dean famously told Nixon that there was a cancer within the presidency and that it was growing. What the Mueller report disturbingly shows, with crystal clarity, is that today there is a cancer in the presidency: President Donald J. Trump,” he wrote. “Congress now bears the solemn constitutional duty to excise that cancer without delay.”
A former West Wing official made a more prosaic case. “Trump stinks,” the person said. “The report gives everyone a better whiff of the odor.”
By Friday morning, in an unmistakeable sign of the devastation, Trump was on a Twitter rant about “the Crazy Mueller Report, in itself written by 18 Angry Democrat Trump Haters” and impeachment was on the table. And whether or not the Democrats pursue impeachment, Trump’s political and legal woes are far from over. “The report will give ammunition for Democrats to hold more hearings,” Nunberg said. And, of course, multiple other investigations loom. “The time bomb has never been Mueller. It’s the S.D.N.Y.,” a Republican close to the White House said.
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