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Mueller report: congressional Republicans reached a conclusion long ago

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Republicans in Congress were united Thursday in exonerating President Trump — regardless of what a lengthy investigation report into him said.

Attorney General Bill Barr gave them enough fodder for “no collusion,” and “no obstruction” ahead of the actual release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the Trump campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Nothing we saw today changes the underlying results of the 22-month-long Mueller investigation that ultimately found no collusion,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a close ally of Trump’s, said in a statement after the redacted Mueller report was made public. “Democrats want to keep searching for imaginary evidence that supports their claims, but it is simply not there.”

Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, which has been conducting a parallel investigation, reached the same conclusion.

“No Americans conspired with Russia to interfere in our elections and Democrats’ accusation of criminal obstruction are unfounded,” Collins said in a statement, adding that he will examine the “mountain of facts supporting the principal conclusions the attorney general and deputy attorney general shared last month: no collusion, no obstruction.”

Thursday was the first time the public and members of Congress were able to read the special counsel’s report. Both received a redacted version of it, though Congress’s version was less redacted than the public’s. Democrats on the House Judiciary committee say they may subpoena for an unredacted version, though they have not done so yet. They have, however, already called for Mueller himself to testify about the report.

The report outlined 10 instances investigated by the special counsel in which Trump may have attempted to interfere with the investigation, as well as numerous connections the Trump campaign had with foreign actors. But Mueller and his team did not actually come to a conclusion on obstruction of justice. It was Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein who said the evidence in the report was “not sufficient to establish” obstruction. Barr repeated the phrase “no collusion” several times Thursday morning during a press conference about the report, before the report was made public.

That’s enough for Republicans, who have been itching for this investigation to come to a close. But Democrats are making clear that this report becoming public isn’t the end of this investigation.

Barr gave congressional Republicans their spin before the report came out

Barr’s summation of the Mueller report was key to how Republicans in Congress have crafted their message around the investigation. The attorney general used language that made it easy for Republicans to chalk up this scandal to everything from a total nothingburger to a partisan “witch hunt.”

Barr held a press conference on the Mueller report before making the report public, at which he repeated the phrase “no collusion” multiple times. On allegations of obstruction of justice, he made sure to highlight the frustrated emotional state Trump was in when taking action related to the Russia investigation.

Here’s what Barr said of Trump’s behavior:

In assessing the president’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context. President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates. At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion. And as the special counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.

This comment translated directly to how Republicans spun even the most damning revelations in the Mueller report. Take Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), one of Trump’s biggest conservative defenders in the House, who used Barr’s comments to make an emotional appeal about Trump.

Republicans have been trying to move on from the beginning. The news isn’t over yet.

Republicans in Congress haven’t changed their tune on the Trump-Russia investigation since it started two years ago: They see no collusion and no obstruction, and they feel for Trump, who they say has had to conduct his presidency under the shadow of a “Democratic witch hunt.”

First and foremost, Republicans want this whole thing to end and be forgotten.

“I am hopeful that the Senate Intelligence Committee is able to look at all of the report, with the exception of the grand jury material, and believe it will assist us in bringing our investigation of Russian involvement in our elections to a conclusion,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) said in a statement.

McCarthy was explicit.

“It is time to move on,” he said. “Americans deserve better than this partisan quest to vilify a political opponent, and I urge our Democratic colleagues in the House to put their emotions and opinions aside, and instead use that passion to come to the table and work on real solutions for all Americans.”

Others called it “game over.”

This isn’t surprising. Republicans have downplayed every twist and turn of this investigation. Trump’s biggest allies on Capitol Hill have tried to undermine Mueller, the FBI, and the news reports about the special counsel’s investigation. They’ve called for ousting members of the Justice Department for not supporting the president enough.

But Democrats aren’t done investigating. And while the redacted Mueller report is now public, the congressional inquiries have only just begun.

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