As Air Force One approached Joint Base Andrews last night, on a flight from Florida, there was an unusual passenger in the cockpit. President Trump was in an euphoric mood and decided to observe the landing sitting next to the pilots. When he strode back into the White House he stopped briefly to announce that America is the greatest country on earth.
Yes, Donald Trump is back in Washington this morning feeling emboldened and liberated. For two years, he has been haunted by the Mueller Investigation. It was always more than just a probe into the Trump presidential campaign. In the eyes of many Americans, the existence of the investigation raised questions about the very legitimacy of Trump’s victory in 2016.
Now that dark shadow has been removed. Mueller found no evidence at all on the central allegation he was examining. According to the Special Counsel, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
That is a huge vindication for Trump, not least because Mueller had forged a superb, elite team of counter-intelligence investigators. If this powerful group - the Dream Team of prosecutors - couldn’t find evidence after two years, after hundreds of interviews and searches, then it’s extremely likely no collusion with Russia existed.
But Mueller was much more ambivalent about the second part of his investigation, the suggestion the President has obstructed justice. On this front, the Special Counsel said that while his report “does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Any other President would portray this as an overall victory and then seek to move forward in a magnanimous and gracious manner, calling for national unity. But that is not how Trump operates. Every success is simply ammunition for the next bitter fight. So already Trump is calling for new investigations into his political enemies. Democrats, rival Republicans, the press, TV networks, Hillary Clinton and her advisers, all can now expect to face new vitriol from the President.
And perhaps this is the key point: For Trump, Mueller’s conclusions are not the end. They are the beginning. The start of the 2020 election, the start of a new campaign against liberal forces in America, the start of another polarising, populist battle against the Establishment. Trump now will have a still greater belief in his combative political instincts, and harbour a greater contempt for the other institutions of power.
Last night he described the Mueller investigation as a failed “take-down” of his presidency. In other words, Trump is not just relieved. He’s also angry and wants revenge. And that suggests the 600 days until the 2020 election could be just as fraught and turbulent as the last two years.