Mueller report reprieve becomes Trump's re-election weapon

WASHINGTON (AP) — For President Donald Trump, the fight over the "witch hunt" is only just beginning.

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller's two-year investigation into Trump's campaign is over, it's being transformed into a rallying cry and a weapon for the president's re-election campaign.

The pall of the two-year probe lifted Sunday, when Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller's findings that said the wide-ranging investigation found no evidence of collusion by Trump's 2016 campaign with the Russian government. Barr's four-page letter was immediately seized upon by the Republican president and his allies as a weapon to use against Democrats, the so-called Deep State and the media.

"There are a lot of people out there that have done some very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country," Trump said Monday as he sat in the Oval Office next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Those people will certainly be looked at."

Even before Mueller's conclusions were revealed, it was clear that Trump saw the end of the investigation as a political opportunity.

As the president's lawyers debated legal strategy, Trump aides and political allies developed a plan to turn the end of the probe into the launching pad for a new round of attacks on the president's foes and a moment to reinvigorate his supporters in the run-up to the 2020 campaign. Trump surrogates rushed to take a victory lap, depict the probe as a failed coup and rub the results in the face of Democrats, many of whom had spent months promising that Mueller would turn up more.

"You've made a great victim of Donald Trump here," Trump counsellor Kellyanne Conway said on Monday morning.

Trump's campaign moved quickly to raise money off the Mueller news, with a text message to supporters stating, "Dems raised millions off a lie. Now we FIGHT BACK!"

The team's plans going forward are more expansive, according to seven aides and allies involved with the effort, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about private deliberations.

While Trump's base has long been suspicious of Mueller, the president's team believes independents and moderate Democrats who backed him in the last election but have since soured may return to the fold if convinced he was unfairly targeted.

Some Republicans who had mused about a primary challenge to Trump if Mueller returned a smoking gun may now stay on the sidelines.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, one of several Republicans considering a bid to unseat the president, had told the AP last month he would only mount a campaign if the political dynamics in the race have changed. Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld, though, said Monday in New Hampshire that "I wasn't really counting on the president getting caught in the soup" and was still considering a bid.

Major talking points for Democrats who had pinned great hopes on Mueller may have vanished. And some swing voters, wary at the prospect of endless investigations and talk of impeachment, may prove more sympathetic to the president.

The president and his allies will now link the report with the investigations launched by House Democrats and try to make the case that, in the wake of Mueller's findings, further probes are partisan overreach.

"I think they can't move forward until they apologize," Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told The Associated Press.

He singled out Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and said the congressman's investigation would have no credibility because he had deemed Trump "treasonous" and promised clear evidence of collusion that didn't materialize.

"If there are people who contrived this investigation, who made up this collusion, maybe they themselves should be investigated," Giuliani said.

22 PHOTOS
Robert Mueller
See Gallery
Robert Mueller
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 28: Former FBI director Robert Mueller attends the ceremonial swearing-in of FBI Director James Comey at the FBI Headquarters October 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. Comey was officially sworn in as director of FBI on September 4 to succeed Mueller who had served as director for 12 years. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama applauds outgoing Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) director Robert Mueller (L) in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington on June 21, 2013 as he nominates Jim Comey to be the next FBI director. Comey, a deputy attorney general under George W. Bush, would replace Mueller, who is stepping down from the agency he has led since the week before the September 11, 2001 attacks. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller applauds key staff members during a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW HEADSHOT)
391489 03: U.S. President George W. Bush speaks during a conference as he stands with Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller, left, who he has nominated to head the FBI, and Attorney General John Ashcroft July 5, 2001 the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller stands for the national anthem during a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) reacts to a standing ovation from the audience, Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (C) and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder (R) during Mueller's farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller gestures during his remarks at a farewell ceremony held for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
FILE PHOTO -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft (R) and FBI Director Robert Mueller speak about possible terrorist threats against the United States, in Washington, May 26, 2004. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller reacts to applause from the audience during his farewell ceremony at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and FBI Director Robert Mueller make their way to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
Outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller (C) delivers remarks at a farewell ceremony for him at the Justice Department in Washington, August 1, 2013. On Monday the U.S. Senate confirmed former Deputy Attorney General James Comey to replace Mueller, who has led the bureau since shortly before the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. Also onstage with Mueller are Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole (FROM L), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, former CIA Director George Tenet and TSA Administrator John Pistole. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: (L-R) Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, FBI Director Robert Mueller and Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director John Morton attend the National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. Holder and other members of the Obama administration are being criticized over reports of the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests and the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington June 13, 2013. Mueller said on Thursday that the U.S. government is doing everything it can to hold confessed leaker Edward Snowden accountable for splashing surveillance secrets across the pages of newspapers worldwide. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS CRIME LAW)
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych (L) welcomes FBI Director Robert Mueller during their meeting in Kiev June 5, 2013. REUTERS/Efrem Lukatsky/Pool (UKRAINE - Tags: POLITICS)
FBI Director Robert Mueller (L) arrives for the Obama presidential inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol January 21, 2013 in Washington. President Barack Obama was re-elected for a second term as President of the United States. Woman at right is unidentified. REUTERS/Win McNamee-POOL (UNITED STATES)
WASHINGTON, : FBI Director Robert Mueller answers questions before Congress 17 October 2002 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Mueller was testifying before the House and Senate Select Intelligence committees' final open hearing investigating events leading up to the September 11, 2001. AFP Photos/Stephen JAFFE (Photo credit should read STEPHEN JAFFE/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) CIA Director Leon Panetta, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and FBI Director Robert Mueller testify at a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, February 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Reed (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
399994 02: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller visits the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller (L) stand during the National Anthem alongside Attorney General Eric Holder (R) and Deputy Attorney General James Cole (C) during a farewell ceremony in Mueller's honor at the Department of Justice on August 1, 2013. Mueller is retiring from the FBI after 12-years as Director. AFP PHOTO / Saul LOEB (Photo credit should read SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
399994 01: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller greets American forces on the American military compound at Kandahar Airport January 23, 2002 in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Mueller had lunch with FBI officials and Haji Gulali, commander of the Kandahar region. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 19: FBI Director Robert Mueller, center, talks with Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., right, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, talk before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on oversight of the FBI. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 06: OVERSIGHT HEARING ON COUNTERTERRORISM--Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, before the hearing. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images)
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., echoed that sentiment, making clear that Republicans weren't ready to move on from the investigations, firing a warning shot to Hillary Clinton and Justice Department officials that "to those who were abusive of the process in 2016 on the other side, you haven't had much scrutiny, but that's coming."

Democrats have pointed out that Mueller found evidence for and against obstruction and have demanded to see his full report.

The president's allies also intend to use the moment to heighten attacks on the media, which many Trump supporters believe unjustly fanned the flames of the special counsel's probe in an effort to bring down the president. They aim to highlight specific news organizations and, in some cases, individual reporters and paint them as biased and untrustworthy, according to two presidential confidants.

The president's campaign and pro-Trump outside groups are poised to amplify the message that Democrats tried to use the probe to obstruct the White House's agenda, while his advisers expect Fox News and the conservative media to act as an echo chamber. A full-throated attack on the investigation also will be the centerpiece of Trump campaign events, including rallies, Trump advisers have said.

Trump's next rally is set for Thursday in Michigan, a state he narrowly won in 2016 and will invest in heavily this time. Count on hearing an earful.

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.