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From now on, the Trump-Russia affair -- the investigation that dominated the first years of Donald Trump's presidency -- will be divided into two parts: before and after the release of Robert Mueller's report. Before the special counsel's findings were made public last month, the president's adversaries were on the offensive. Now, they are playing defense.
The change is due to one simple fact: Mueller could not establish that there was a conspiracy or coordination between Russia and the Trump campaign to fix the 2016 election. The special counsel's office interviewed 500 witnesses, issued 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search-and-seizure warrants and obtained nearly 300 records of electronic communications, and still could not establish the one thing that mattered most in the investigation.
Judgment - Conspiracy - Collusion - Phrasing - Place
Without a judgment that a conspiracy -- or collusion, in the popular phrasing -- took place, everything else in the Trump-Russia affair began to shrink in significance.
In particular, allegations that the president obstructed justice to cover up a conspiracy were transformed into allegations that he obstructed an investigation into a crime that prosecutors could not say actually occurred. Although it is legally possible to pursue an obstruction case without an underlying crime, a critical element of obstruction -- knowledge of guilt -- disappeared the moment Mueller's report was released.
Course - TV - Heads - Obstruction - Report
Of course, TV talking heads are still arguing over obstruction. But with the report's release, the investigation moved from the legal realm to the political realm. And in the political realm, the president has a simple and effective case to make to the 99.6 percent of Americans who are not lawyers: "They say I obstructed an investigation into something that didn't happen? And they want to impeach me for that?"
The ground has shifted in the month since the report became public. Before the release, many Democrats adopted a "wait for Mueller"...
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