Donald Trump – who for the past two years was accused of possibly betraying his country to Russia – has claimed he was the victim of “evil and treasonous” acts that no other president should be forced to endure.
As shellshocked and downbeat Democrats scrambled to determine how best to proceed with the fallout of Robert Mueller’s conclusion that the president did not collude with Moscow, Mr Trump and the White House took the opportunity to enjoy something resembling a victory lap.
“I think Democrats and the liberal media owe the president and they owe the American people an apology,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, told breakfast television. “They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction from things that ... impact everyone’s day-to-day lives.”
On Sunday, after attorney general William Barr said in a letter to Congress that Mr Mueller had found no evidence of collusion but no decision about whether he had obstructed justice, Mr Trump had told reporters he had been subjected to an attempted “illegal takedown”. He suggested Democrats should be investigated.
On Monday, meeting in the Oval Office with Benjamin Netanyahu, where he signed a document that formally recognised Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, he dug in further.
“There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things – I would say treasonous things against our country,” he said.
“I will tell you, I love this country. I love this country as much as I can love anything: my family, my country, my god. But what they did, it was a false narrative. It was – it was a terrible thing.”
He added: “We can never let this happen to another president again. I can tell you that. I say it very strongly. Very few people I know could have handled it.”
In his report, the result of almost two years of work, Mr Mueller said he found no evidence of a direct link between what he said were Moscow’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, and the Trump campaign. On the issue of whether the president had obstructed efforts to investigate possible collusion, he set out the case for and against in regard to several incidents.
Yet, he “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement”. In turn, Mr Barr and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, decided the president’s actions did not constitute a prosecutable crime.
Mr Mueller’s conclusions have been a huge disappointment to Democrats, who had been hoping he would uncover Mr Trump had been guilty of nefarious behaviour.
Many of the Democrats seeking their party’s nomination to challenge Mr Trump in 2020, have pointed out what has been released so far is Mr Barr’s summary about Mr Mueller’s investigation – not the special counsel’s report.
“The fact that special counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” house speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate democratic leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
“Given Mr Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”
Meanwhile, the Kremlin on Monday said Vladimir Putin was ready to improve ties with the United States following the release of Mr Barr’s summary and called on the United States to formally recognise there was no collusion between Russia and Trump’s campaign, Reuters said.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov called on Washington to make the first move to reset the relationship and repeated Moscow’s denial of any interference in US elections and internal affairs.