Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, released in a 448-page redacted report on Thursday, paints a decidedly mixed picture of President Donald Trump’s conduct, both damning and exculpatory, that both sides of the political divide will seize upon.
As Attorney General William Barr said last month, the inquiry into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election did not conclude that Mr Trump committed a crime, but it also did not exonerate him.
Mr Trump already has the result he insisted on from the outset: no collusion.
But while it is unclear if the document contains any “smoking gun” that could make impeachment proceedings against the president any more likely, there are enough potential red flags in there to keep congressional hearings ticking over for the remainder of his term in office.
‘This is the end of my presidency’
One of the most talked-about sections of the report details the president’s expletive-filled horror when he learned that a special counsel was being appointed in May 2017.
According to the Mueller report, when then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the president about the coming inquiry, he replied: “Oh my god. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency.” He added two expletives to describe his situation.
Mr Trump added: “Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels, it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me.”
While it does not sound like the reaction of a man who had nothing to hide, the president’s team will surely argue he was merely concerned about how the probe would distract from his policy agenda.
‘Mueller has to go’
A key witness in the obstruction investigation was former White House counsel Donald McGahn, who spent more than 30 hours being interviewed by the Mueller team.
The report details how on 17 June 2017, the president called Mr McGahn from Camp David and ordered him to have the special counsel removed.
Mr McGahn told the Mueller team that the president had called him at home twice and on both occasions directed him to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and say that Mr Mueller should no longer serve as special counsel.
On the second call, Mr McGahn said the president was more direct, saying: “Call Rod, tell Rod that Mueller has conflicts and can’t be the Special Counsel”, and “Mueller has to go” and “Call me back when you do it.”
Mr McGahn was so upset by the interference that he threatened to quit rather than aid what he predicted would be a Nixon-style “Saturday Night Massacre”.
No ‘underlying crime’
The Mueller report cites 10 instances that were investigated as potential obstruction of justice by Mr Trump, most of them already known because, as the inquiry says, they largely “took place in public view”.
But the report ultimately concludes: “Unlike cases in which a subject engages in obstruction of justice to cover up a crime, the evidence we obtained did not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. Although the obstruction statutes do not require proof of such a crime, the absence of that evidence affects the analysis of the President’s intent”.
To be guilty of obstruction, it would have to be established that Mr Trump had “corrupt intent” when he tried to undercut the investigation.
As the report makes clear, the US constitution grants a president wide latitude to act under his executive authority. And legal experts point out that Mr Trump could simply have argued that he thought the investigation was a meritless waste of government resources.