The Mueller report isn’t out until Thursday, but some key Republican lawmakers appear to have already drawn their own conclusions about what’s in it.
“Whatever happens on Thursday, Donald Trump is a free man,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said on Fox News this week.
"We know the bottom line. No collusion. It’s over,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.).
Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), the most powerful Republican on Capitol Hill, seemed convinced that there is nothing damaging in the report.
“[T]wo years, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of search warrants, hundreds of witnesses, millions of taxpayer dollars, and these are the findings: No collusion. No conspiracy. No obstruction,” McConnell said on the Senate floor in March after Attorney General William P. Barr — not special counsel Robert S. Mueller III — decided there wasn’t enough evidence to implicate the president on obstructing the probe into Russian election interference.
None of this should come as a surprise to anyone watching the Republicans’ relationship with Trump over the past 2½ years. It’s true that there are growing signs of a rift between Trump and Republicans, especially over foreign policy, Trump’s increasingly aggressive immigration policy and his attempt to revive the health-care debate. The nearing 2020 presidential election means many congressional Republicans, McConnell included, are up for reelection, too, and they need to do what’s best for them. (So, not re-litigate Obamacare.)
But, overall, Republicans have been largely obsequious to Trump, especially when it comes to the Russia investigation. Last year, McConnell refused to bring up a bill to protect Mueller from being fired, even as some of the majority leader’s Republican colleagues supported it. This year, Republicans confirmed Barr to the all-important attorney general position at the Justice Department over Democratic concerns that he wouldn’t be an impartial judge of the facts. Now Republicans are taking Barr’s word that Trump didn’t obstruct justice, even though legal experts question the attorney general’s rationale.
All of this is notable because if there were anything that could turn that GOP-Trump rift into an un-crossable canyon, it would have been the Mueller report. There has been no greater threat to Trump’s presidency than the investigation, which probed whether his campaign colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election and whether he illegally tried to stop the investigation. When Barr shared in March that the Mueller report found no evidence of collusion, Democrats’ hopes of a bipartisan turn against the president were dashed.
Republican lawmakers probably figure that there won’t be consequences for their decision to jump to conclusions and yet again defend the president. The report is expected to be heavily redacted and may be hard for most people to read. Democrats in the House of Representatives are ready to go to court to try to get the full report, but that could be an uphill battle. Republicans’ mind-made-up attitude sounds hypocritical as they criticize House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) for still talking about potential Trump-Russia collusion. But who’s really paying attention to that?
We may never fully know what Mueller thought about the president’s legal liability. But we know what Trump thinks about it. And, so, if you’re a Republican who hopes to get reelected in what is clearly the president’s party, it makes sense to preemptively conclude that the report exonerates him, no matter what the facts may turn out to be.