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It wasn't a day of reckoning for Trump

The Mueller investigation report delivered a knockout to his political adversaries but the president is not out of trouble yet

Mr Mueller and his team found no conspiracy and no collusion with the Russians.

THEY have been reading The New York Times and The Washington Post every morning as they sip their espresso and check their emails in the morning. And while they were running on the treadmill or waiting for their flights at the airport terminal, their eyes have been glued to the CNN and MSNBC news cable channels.

And for the last three years, the Russia Collusion has been the 24/7 non-stop media story, as politicians and pundits, geopolitical analysts and intelligence experts, and almost everyone else, providing all the juicy details about all those mysterious meetings in Trump Tower in Manhattan or in secret hideaways in Moscow and Prague, where Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr and other close aides to Candidate Donald Trump were supposedly conspiring with Russian officials to ensure that Candidate Hillary Clinton would not be occupying the White House after the 2016 presidential election.

With each news cycle bombarding us with new sensational exposes and with pundits assuring us that "this is it, the tipping point" and that "it is over for the Trump administration", there has been no doubt in the minds of the CNN talking heads and NYT columnists, as well as those who were supposed to provide Americans with "straight" news, that there was a "collusion" between the Donald and his pal in the Kremlin.

The only debate seemed to be between those who believed that President Trump was Vladimir Putin's mole in the White House and those who suggested that the president and some members of his family and close aides have been assisting the Russians in exchange for business deals that benefited the Trump Organisation.

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It was not surprising therefore that most of my neighbours in Chevy Chase, Maryland, the suburb of Washington, DC, that has more Whole Foods stores than any area in the United States - and where Candidate Clinton had beaten Candidate Trump by 60 points in November 2016 - expected Special Counsel Robert Mueller, nominated to head the investigation of the Russia Collusion, would come up with "something" when he issued his final report. They were confident that Mr Mueller would provide evidence that would prove that, if not for the Trump-Putin conspiracy, the outcome of the last presidential election would have been quite different.

It is true that the Mueller Investigation has already resulted in scores of indictments, court hearings that guilty pleas involving more than 80 people operating in the Donald's business and political circles, including Michael Flynn, President Trump's former national security advisor; Michael Cohen, his former lawyer; and Paul Manafort, who had served on the Trump campaign. Yet the charges against them and others involved mostly lying to Congress and the FBI, and financial fraud and conspiracy.

And Mr Mueller's investigators have also discovered evidence that supported allegations raised by the US intelligence agencies, that Russian nationals operating under the guidance of their government have tried to interfere in the US presidential election - mostly by planting disinformation in the social media - leading to the indictment of 26 Russian citizens.

But what seemed to be missing from the numerous reports from the investigation that were leaked to the media was any sign of a "smoking gun" that would establish beyond reasonable doubt that President Trump or members of his election campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities, which was what the Special Counsel had been tasked to do.

So finally last Friday came the Big Day! After three years of investigations, after hundreds of documents, and thousands of pages of documents, Mr Mueller was scheduled to deliver his report to the US Justice Department, and like all of Washington I was waiting with great anticipation to find out whether, as most of my friends and colleagues had expected, that was going to be a day of reckoning for President Trump. If charged with colluding with the Russians, he could have been impeached, convicted and perhaps even end up in jail spending quality time with Mr Manafort. That a thunderstorm was forming over Washington on Friday afternoon seemed to be symbolic.

I was sitting in my favourite hangout in Chevy Chase in the late afternoon when it started raining, and then it cleared, and Wolf Blitzer announced after 4pm on CNN that the report was delivered into the hands of Attorney-General William Barr, and he then added that sources at the Justice Department reported that Mr Mueller would not be recommending any new indictments.

The last piece of information was very telling and seemed to depress some of my liberal and Democratic pals in the coffee shop in my neighbourhood. Although a sitting president cannot be indicted, the fact that none of the leading players in the plot - including Mr Trump's son and son-in-law - was charged for colluding with Russia suggested that the investigation failed to substantiate the allegations against the president and members of his campaign.

And then it was two sleepless nights for many Washingtonians and another long wait on Sunday, with the hours ticking by, until late afternoon when the Justice Department provided the public with a summary of the Special Counsel's key findings that - and I am understating here - may have ruined the weekend (or what was left of it) for many of my neighbours who have yet to recover from the trauma they had experienced on Election Night 2016.

It is not that Mr Mueller and his team have concluded that Russia's interference in the election was a "hoax" as President Trump has charged. But as the report put it, they "did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election".

In short, no conspiracy, no collusion, and as the Justice Department determined, there was also no evidence to make an obstruction accusation against President Trump. Bummer for the anti-Trump resistance and a victory for the president who could now be seen as delivering a knockout to his political adversaries in Washington as well as to his nemeses in CNN and The New York Times.

Or so it seems. But nothing is as simple as it seems in today's politically polarised America where each political tribe creates with the same set of facts its own separate narrative. And expect the duelling narratives to dominate American politics in the remaining 22 months of the Trump presidency.

Without findings of collusion with Russia, which after all were at the centre of the Mueller investigation, President Trump and his supporters are feeling vindicated. The president is now in the position to consolidate his political base and is unlikely to face a challenge from a Republican presidential aspirant waving the #NeverTrump flag.

And without the cloud of the Russia collusion hanging over the White House and without a media environment dominated by speculation about his imminent political demise, President Trump will be in a stronger position to pursue his policies at home and abroad. Hence foreign leaders will be more inclined to make deals with him, now that his status as president is secure for the next two years.

But the Democrats who now control the House of Representatives have made it clear that they were planning to continue probing into President Trump's Russian links and insist that the report submitted by Mr Mueller on Friday still left open the question of whether the president had tried to obstruct the investigation, arguing that obstruction of the law is an impeachable offence.

Moreover, President Trump still faces investigations in other jurisdictions, including by federal investigators in New York who accused him of violating campaign finance laws by arranging hush payments to keep two women from publicly discussing their extramarital affairs with him, as well as of cheating in his taxes and receiving money from foreign sources.

The Democrats who are now in charge of the major committees in the House and have the authority to conduct investigations and call witnesses to testify could use that power to focus media and public attention on President Trump's misdeeds and to try to build up a case to impeach him.

But it is not clear whether the public, exhausted after three years of costly investigations that have ended without any charges against the president, has the patience to go through what is basically a form of political theatre. And more important, whether a new series of investigations would even affect the attitudes of the members of the two political tribes towards the president.

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