Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year probe into Russian collusion in the 2016 presidential election wasn’t just a cloud over the White House, but the entire Republican Party. And when it started to lift, GOP lawmakers wasted no time taking a victory lap.
One of the first lawmakers to receive Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report was Sen. Lindsey Graham, who is chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Graham, who is up for re-election in 2020 and had spent the day golfing with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, immediately declared the summary a vindication.
“Good day for the rule of law,” he said. “Great day for President Trump and his team.”
Democrats were quick to point out that Trump was not entirely exonerated; after all, only Barr’s summary has been released, and Mueller took no stance on whether obstruction of justice had been committed, leaving that to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who decided that it did not meet the legal standard.
But for Republicans it was more than enough.
“This case is closed,” said House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy. “It is time we move on for the good of the nation.”
Trump, who had derided Mueller for the entirety of his probe as pursuing a witch hunt, immediate began using the report to fundraise for his reelection campaign, even as he called it an “illegal take-down that failed.”
The White House and the Republican National Committee, both of whom had remained virtually silent until Barr’s summary was released, began circulating talking points to surrogates touting the report as a victory for them. “For years, Democrats and many in the media promised us there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Today, they were proven totally wrong and President Trump has been completely exonerated,” read the talking points from the RNC, which were obtained by TIME.
Democrats had made clear the fight was just beginning; they plan to fight tooth and nail for all of the documents in Mueller’s report, and will likely call in Barr — and possibly Mueller — to testify before Congress. For weeks, aides have also been pointing out that House Democrats, who now have the power of the gavel, are investigating a number of subjects much broader than what Mueller had been assigned to probe.
But after two years on defense, Republicans were ready to play offense.
Graham even argued that he would like a second special counsel — “someone like a Mr. Mueller” — to look into the origins of the Trump investigation, determine whether the FISA warrant process is being handled fairly and look into claims of bias at the FBI and the Department of Justice in the 2016 election.