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WASHINGTON DC, USA (4th UPDATE) – The White House was jubilant Monday, March 25, after the massive Russian collusion probe cleared President Donald Trump, freeing him to campaign for reelection – and tell Americans that he was right all along.
“It’s a great day for America,” Trump’s spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told CNN.
Trump has been under the cloud of potentially historic scandal for two years while special prosecutor Robert Mueller delved into allegations that his 2016 election campaign colluded with Russian agents trying to tilt the polls in his favor.
On Sunday, March 24, Attorney General William Barr said in a brief summary of the just-finished report that Mueller had found “no collusion with Russia.”
Mueller pointedly said that he could not determine whether Trump had committed the crime of obstruction of justice through his highly public opposition to the Russia probe, which he railed against as a “witch hunt.”
“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Barr cited Mueller as saying.
But that was only a wrinkle on an otherwise clear horizon as seen from the White House ahead of 2020 presidential elections.
Democrats, who for two years have seen the Mueller report as fuel for potential impeachment, insist they will continue to use powerful congressional committees to probe further into Trump’s business and political dealings with Russia.
Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway told journalists she had two words for the president’s foes.
“Move on,” she said in the spring sunshine outside the White House.
Trump has been relatively restrained so far, but was expected to address reporters while greeting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House.
The nature of his message is already clear.
“It was a complete and total exoneration,” Trump said Sunday in brief comments from Florida, where he’d spent the weekend at his golf resort.
“It’s a shame that the country had to go through this.”
That note of anger boosted expectations that Trump and his allies may be seeking retaliation.
“Hopefully somebody’s going to be looking at the other side,” Trump said, referring to investigating the origins of the probe against him.
Conway went further, calling on Democratic congressman Adam Schiff, head of the House Intelligence Committee and one of Trump’s most dogged opponents, to resign.
And Trump’s son Eric echoed a growing outcry on the right of the Republican party by taking aim at the media, demanding a “simple apology” from 7 major news organizations, including The New York Times and CNN.
On Thursday, March 28, Trump will be back on the campaign trail, addressing a rally of his most faithful fans in Michigan – and energy levels will likely go through the roof.
“Expect him to come ‘off the chain,'” Trump’s controversial former strategist Steve Bannon wrote to The Washington Post.
Despite the relief at the White House, the Mueller probe painted a deeply unflattering picture of the divisive and populist real-estate-tycoon turned politician.
The probe established that Russians did try to influence the 2016 election by hacking Democratic party computers and flooding social media with disinformation to harm Trump’s rival Hillary Clinton.
It also brought new focus on Trump’s hidden business dealings with Russians, including a long-running push to build a Trump tower in Moscow, with negotiations continuing right into his election year – despite claims that he had no such links.
And although no collusion was proven, the probe uncovered other crimes, leaving a heavy taint on Trump’s inner circle.
Mueller issued criminal charges ranging from conspiracy to lying to investigators against 34 individuals.
Six of those were former insiders in Trump’s circle, and 5 have been convicted, including Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, his national security advisor Michael Flynn and his campaign chairman Paul Manafort.
Cohen was sentenced to 3 years in prison for crimes including, at Trump’s alleged instruction, using campaign funds for hush payments to an adult film star who allegedly had an affair with Trump.
And Manafort was imprisoned for 7.5 years, though mostly for crimes unrelated to the campaign.
With only a short summary made public by Barr, pressure is growing from Democrats for the entire probe to be released. However, Barr may declare parts of the report off limits for legal reasons.
Senator Lindsey Graham, the Republican head of the judiciary committee, said he would be talking to Barr and “I hope soon to have as much of the report released as possible.” – Rappler.com