The Washington Post greets the Mueller report with its standard, all-purpose story about chaos at the Trump White House. The title of its paper edition article about the White House response to the Mueller is “Trump team didn’t have a plan of attack.”
But the White House didn’t need one. Mueller has not called for the indictment of President Trump or any member of his family. And given the news that there will be no further indictments of anyone, it seems clear that Mueller found no “collusion” related crime.
From Trump’s point of view, this news speaks for itself. It’s his enemies who need a plan. House Democrats reportedly had an emergency phone conference to formulate one.
The White House probably understood that, in all likelihood, the transmission of Mueller’s report to the Attorney General would not necessitate a response. In the unlikely event that it did, Trump would have responded in his usual way, by blasting Mueller on Twitter. His team would have taken it from there.
The real story here, in my view, is how Trump instinctively came up with an effective plan for dealing with Mueller’s investigation from the outset. It consisted of at least three elements.
First, state at every opportunity that there was no collusion. That way, the focus would remain where it was supposed to be — on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, an issue where Trump could expect to prevail.
Second, call the investigation a witch hunt at every opportunity. That way, Mueller’s credibility would be driven down (as polls suggest it was).
If Mueller then reported that the administration was guilty of wrongdoing, the idea that Mueller is biased would be planted, and half the country might not accept his conclusions. If, on the other hand, Mueller reported no wrongdoing and the Democrats kept pressing anyway, the Dems might well be seen by more than half the country as witch-hunting. There’s a good chance now that things will play out that way.
Third, resist Mueller’s efforts to have the president give live testimony. That way, Trump would minimize the risk of falling into a perjury trap.
Whatever one thinks about the propriety of the second part of Trump’s approach — attacking the investigation — it was a smart move. And given the events that led to the investigation — an unconscionable attempt by Trump’s enemies to gin up a Russia collusion narrative — I think Trump was entitled to take the gloves off.