Many conservatives know that the lengthy report investigating President Donald Trump and his associates related to Russian interference in the election doesn’t look great — but one conservative told me they’re chalking it up to “more embarrassing but non-criminal Trump activity.”
Ben Shapiro, a conservative pundit and editor-in-chief of the right-leaning website Daily Wire, told me the reason for that sentiment was that the bottom line was already public information: The Mueller team did not charge Trump, or members of his family, with any crime.
“So I think the general take is,” Shapiro told me, “‘Oh, more embarrassing but non-criminal Trump activity? Throw it on the pile over there with everything else.’” After finishing reading the report, Shapiro tweeted a comparison of the Russia investigation to Trump’s handling of hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, saying that “every Trump scandal follows this pattern.”
As National Review writer Kevin Williamson put it in a column released Thursday, conservatives have seemed to come to a general consensus following Attorney General Barr’s letter that “some of Trump’s actions” regarding Russia and the special counsel investigation “may have been unseemly, but that there’s no law against unseemliness.”
Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report is a 448-page document that details both the special counsel’s investigation into Trump’s ties with Russia and the president’s efforts to stymie that investigation. It includes details about Russian influence operations and revelations like Trump saying “I’m fucked” upon learning of Mueller’s appointment, among others.
But many on the right have a general sense that no matter what damning information might be found in the report, absent criminal charges directly implicating the president or his family, as writer David Harsanyi told me, no one will be changing their minds about Trump anytime soon.
They argue that, like the hush money payments case, people see what they want to see, particularly in a media environment rife with, as National Review writer David French put it, “partisanship and years of gross, relentless over-hyping.”
In a just world, this report would be absolutely devastating for Trump. The fact that it may not be is a testament to two things:— David French (@DavidAFrench) April 18, 2019
1) Partisanship; and
2) Years of gross, relentless over-hyping and irresponsible speculation that things were much, much worse.
The president’s tweets “proved exceedingly measured”
In advance of the report’s release, conservatives were generally calm about Mueller’s ultimate findings even as they knew it could contain potentially damaging information to the president. And with the report in hand, some on the right were arguing that Mueller’s investigation had proved vindicating for the President.
Margot Cleveland, an adjunct professor at Notre Dame and senior contributor to The Federalist, told me that, while she was still reading the report, “The Mueller report vindicates Trump in a way I had not anticipated. Yes, Trump attacked what he called the Special Counsel’s ‘witch hunt.’ But in light of the Special Counsel’s conclusion that there was zero Russian collusion, the president’s tweets and other comments proved exceedingly measured in hindsight.
“Calling the investigation a witch hunt was the kindest thing Trump could say about what he — and the country — were forced to endure because his political enemies sought to sandbag his administration,” she continued.
A renewed focus on the media’s role in the Russia investigation
But others on the right focused more on the media’s predicted response, arguing that the media held some responsibility for keeping the “Russia collusion hoax” going in service to Democrats and Trump-opposing conservatives.
The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway tweeted Thursday morning that the last people she wanted to hear from on the Mueller report were the “political media” who “got everything wrong” about the Russia investigation. Hemingway did not respond to requests to expand on her point.
The last people on earth I want to hear interpret the Mueller report are the political media who got *everything wrong* about the very damaging Russia collusion story. I don't want to hear a word. A word.— Mollie (@MZHemingway) April 18, 2019
“Take it as a matter of faith that Democrats and left-leaning media will completely reject the Mueller report, despite being able to read for themselves the same exculpatory sentences Barr included in his summary, and claim that the redactions either hid horrific and collusive behavior by Trump and his campaign associates, or left open the possibility that Barr improperly redacted impeachable behavior,” said another Federalist writer Jason Beale who predicted that the media would focus heavily on the Mueller report’s redactions.
Perhaps Trump was saved from himself
One particularly fascinating aspect of the report was the number of times Trump appeared to wade into obstructionist behavior before being stopped by a subordinate. As conservative writer Phillip Klein wrote in the Washington Examiner, the report detailed just how often “those surrounding President Trump managed to protect him from his own worst instincts by refusing to carry out actions that would have significantly strengthened the obstruction of justice case against him.”
And Guy Benson, political editor at Townhall.com and a Fox News contributor, agreed, tweeting that one of his takeaways from the report was how Trump made orders that may have obstructed the investigation, but “cooler heads prevailed.”
In fits of (arguably justified) fury, POTUS periodically delivered orders or applied pressure to limit/interfere with wider probe. In each case, cooler heads prevailed & POTUS backed away from impulsive flare-ups. He should be grateful to those who stood up to him & so should we.— Guy Benson (@guypbenson) April 18, 2019
Harsanyi said of the efforts by Trump detailed in the Mueller report to allegedly stymie the investigation, “If his staff stopped him from acting on his worst instincts — and he has many — that’s great. He obviously listened. In the end, Trump didn’t shut down the investigation.”
To be clear, we don’t know just how the Mueller report will impact the president — especially since polling following the release of Attorney General Barr’s letter summarizing the report showed that even a finding of “no collusion” hasn’t changed how many Americans view Trump and his ties with Russia. So far, at least, it appears views of this president are largely baked in, unlikely to change based on new information. Some conservatives are betting on that.
So while the Mueller report might not be good for Trump, it could, in the eyes of many on the right, be far, far worse.