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Trump should have let matters run their course

Most of the more than 400-page report special counsel Robert Mueller submitted to the Justice Department falls into the “tell us something we didn’t know” category. From various sources, Americans already had been made aware of nearly all the conclusions Mueller’s team reached in its investigation of whether President Donald Trump and/or others in his campaign cooperated with the Russian government to influence the 2016 election.

Despite nearly two years of investigation, the special counsel could find no evidence of that.

Mueller also concluded his team was unable to find evidence judged sufficient to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

Yet a section of the report, a redacted version of which was released Thursday, paints an unflattering picture of Trump’s behavior after the special counsel was appointed in May 2017. As Mueller’s report puts it: “President Trump reacted negatively to the Special Counsel’s appointment. He told advisers that it was the end of his presidency, sought to have Attorney General Jefferson (Jeff) Sessions recuse from the Russia investigation and to have the Special Counsel removed, and engaged in efforts to curtail the Special Counsel’s investigation and prevent the disclosure of evidence to it, including through public and private contacts with potential witnesses.”

A critical aspect of the Mueller probe of allegations the president obstructed justice involved motive. As the special counsel’s report states, “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.”

Apparently, then, Trump’s behavior was not an attempt to shield himself from prosecution.

Whatever the president’s thinking, Mueller’s team did not find enough evidence to charge him with obstruction but, as the report states, “also does not exonerate him.”

So, the report is a clear victory for Trump in stating he did not cooperate with the Russian government. At the same time, the Mueller team concluded — our words, not theirs — that the president was so consumed with worry about his image that he stepped very close to obstructing justice.

As so often is the case in politics, that attempt to safeguard one’s image did more damage to it, in the end, than would have occurred had Trump simply let matters run their course.

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