The Note: Mueller report intensifies political divisions

PHOTO: Special Counsel on the Russian investigation Robert Mueller leaves departs a meeting with members of the US Senate Judiciary Committee at the US Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017.PlayAFP/Getty Images, FILE
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Twenty-two months, 37 indictments, 448 pages … but how many minds changed in the political world?

Special counsel Robert Mueller's report somehow represents everything and nothing to just about everybody. It ends a prolonged chapter by being simultaneously climactic and anti-climactic -- seen as vindication for both those loyal to President Donald Trump and those committed to his ouster.

PHOTO: Pages of the special counsel Robert Muellers redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election released on April 18, 2019. Cliff Owen/AP
Pages of the special counsel Robert Mueller's redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election released on April 18, 2019.

In fact, the report is neither an exoneration nor an indictment. It details and exposes presidential behavior that has no precedent but could be both what Trump fans expect and what Trump opponents see as making him unfit for the presidency.

When it comes to politics, few arguments are likely ended at the conclusion of this long process. Mueller's conclusion instead clarifies the political stakes of this moment with a reminder that politics represents choices -- between people, philosophies and even basic norms of behavior from leaders.

The Trump phenomenon and the Trump presidency were borne of a particular set of political circumstances. It will be up to a messy and divided political process to sort things out from here.

The RUNDOWN with MaryAlice Parks

The president tweeted "Game Over" and his campaign took a victory lap, too, writing in a statement after the special counsel's redacted report was released, "President Trump has been fully and completely exonerated yet again."

All told, it was a lot of celebration and back-slapping over a report that sought only to answer whether sufficient criminal conduct had occurred and could be proven in a court of law.

Typically, more stringent standards apply to elected officials -- standards of morality, truthfulness and transparency. Republicans have argued as much in the past.

PHOTO: President Donald Trump arrives at a Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride event in the East Room of the White House, April 18, 2019. Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
President Donald Trump arrives at a Wounded Warrior Project Soldier Ride event in the East Room of the White House, April 18, 2019.

Mueller's team, in fact, outlined several instances where investigators found evidence of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russians that the president, his staff and his family ultimately dismissed or denied to the American public. The investigators also looked into 10 actions by the president dealing with law enforcement and reached no final conclusion about whether those actions explicitly did or did not constitute obstruction.

With Russia so intent on finding a way into the Trump campaign, Mueller's team wrote in a section of the report dealing with Russian government outreach and contacts, “Schemes involving the solicitation or receipt of assistance from foreign sources raise difficult statutorily and constitutional questions.”

In other words, it is now up to Congress and the federal government to decide if laws and regulations should be tougher, and it's up to voters to decide what their standards are.

The TIP with John Verhovek

The frustration across the Democratic field with the release of Mueller's much-anticipated report was palpable and the calls for his public testimony swift and widespread.

But in a post-Mueller report world, with a Republican incumbent president ready to "TURN THE TABLES" on his opponents, some Democratic hopefuls will have to recalibrate their political message on an issue most voters are likely ready to move on from.

PHOTO: Harris, Klobuchar, Booker AP/Getty Images
Harris, Klobuchar, Booker

The trio of presidential hopefuls who sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee -- Sens. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar -- will have an opportunity to dig in deeper than the rest of the field and put pressure on the Justice Department to reveal more about Mueller's investigation. But they cannot afford to let those efforts interfere with gaining needed momentum in the early stages of the 2020 race.

Even as the well-funded Trump political machine is poised to turn its ire toward them, no Democratic presidential contenders have made Mueller, his investigation or the specter of impeachment the centerpiece of their campaigns.

ONE MORE THING

Something happened on the path to "complete and total exoneration." Mueller's long-awaited report did not result in a legal case that will be brought against Trump, despite 22 months of a special counsel inquiry. But Mueller's team of investigators constructed an intricate and detailed political case against the president, with vast implications for the current Congress and for leaders inside both parties in advance of the 2020 election. https://abcn.ws/2ZkwdGf

THE PLAYLIST

ABC News' "Start Here" podcast. Friday morning's special edition of "Start Here" features a full breakdown of the Mueller report. ABC News' Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos, Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, Senior Congressional Correspondent Mary Bruce and more tell us the moments that mattered, how lawmakers are reacting and where we go from here. http://apple.co/2HPocUL

ABC News' "The Investigation" podcast. On the day of the release of the Mueller report, the ABC News Investigative team breaks down all the critical elements from the special counsel's report. Former Governor of New Jersey and ABC News contributor Chris Christie shares his own experience being interviewed by the special counsel and says he never believed the Russia investigation was a hoax. Kate Shaw, former Obama White House associate counsel and ABC News contributor, offers her legal perspective as well. https://abcn.ws/2Gx1oH4

FiveThirtyEight's "Politics Podcast." On this episode, the crew reacts to special counsel Robert Mueller's findings that the Trump campaign did not criminally conspire with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election and that President Donald Trump did attempt to intervene in the Russia investigation. The report came to no conclusion about the criminality of Trump's actions during the investigation. https://53eig.ht/2V8swE7

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW TODAY

  • President Trump is in Mar-a-Lago and has no public events on his schedule.
  • Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., holds a rally in Greenville, South Carolina, on Friday at 5 p.m. Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., also returns to South Carolina for several campaign events starting on Friday.
  • On Friday, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., visits Harlan, Denison and Carroll, Iowa, with a final stop in Ames to deliver remarks before the Iowa State University Democrats at 3 p.m. Central.
  • Continuing his visit across Nevada, Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., stops in Douglas and Washoe counties on Saturday and Clark County on Sunday.
  • Several 2020 presidential candidates travel to New Hampshire this weekend including: former Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-Texas, closes out his two-day swing in the Granite State with a meet and greet in Somersworth on Friday at 8:30 a.m.; also on Friday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., holds a roundtable on infrastructure in Manchester at 2:15 p.m.; Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, stops in Londonderry, Nashua, Bedford and Plymouth throughout the weekend; Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, visits Manchester, Merrimack, Concord, Exeter and Portsmouth starting on Friday; and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., stops in Keene, Weare and Amherst on Saturday.
  • Download the ABC News app and select "The Note" as an item of interest to receive the day's sharpest political analysis every weekday.

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