It’s a witch hunt, a vendetta, the worst presidential harassment in history.
That’s what President Donald Trump has said for two years about the special counsel’s Russia probe. Now, it’s as something potentially a political opportunity.
With Robert Mueller’s findings expected any day, the president has grown increasingly confident the report will produce what he insisted all along: no clear evidence of a conspiracy between Russia and his 2016 campaign.
A change is underway as well among congressional Democrats, who have long believed the report would offer damning evidence against the president. The Democrats are busy building new avenues for evidence to come out, opening a broad array of investigations of Trump’s White House and businesses that go far beyond Mueller’s focus on Russian interference to help Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton.
It’s a striking role reversal.
No one knows exactly what Mueller will say, but Trump, his allies and members of Congress are trying to map out the post-probe political dynamics.
One scenario would have seemed downright implausible until recently: The president will take the findings and run on them, rather than against them, by painting the special counsel as an example of failed government overreach.
The top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, said on the House floor last week that he had a “news flash” for Democrats who had high hopes that the report would be damaging to Trump.
“What happens when it comes back and says none of this was true, the president did not do anything wrong?” Collins asked. “Then the meltdown will occur.”
Trump’s tweeted version was even more graphic: The Democrats’ House investigative committees were going “stone cold CRAZY.”
That was in reaction to Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s document requests to 81 people, businesses and organizations related to Trump. Nadler said his panel must look at “a much broader question” than Mueller has.
The Russia probe, taken over by Mueller in May 2017, has posed a mortal threat to the presidency since Trump was elected — a possible case for collusion or obstruction of justice that could begin a domino effect ending with impeachment. As the investigation winds down, other feelings have taken hold in the White House, namely a cautious optimism that the worst is over, that no smoking gun has been found.
If the report proves anticlimactic, says former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally, “there would no longer be any justification for what the House Dems want to do. They have their report, they had the guy they wanted writing it, and he had the full power of the federal government behind him and they still didn’t get the president.
“Trump can say: Here is the report. I didn’t fire Mueller, I didn’t interfere with him. If you want to keep investigating me, it just shows that it is purely partisan.”
While Trump’s base has long been suspicious of Mueller, the president’s team believes independents and moderate Democrats who backed him in the last election but have since soured may return to the fold if convinced he has been unfairly targeted.
One of Trump’s defenders, North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows, tweeted last month that Democrats will “keep investigating if Mueller doesn’t find what they want. Amazing.”
Meadows wrote in a separate tweet: “Their message is shifting. The ‘Russian collusion’ narrative is falling apart, and they know it.”