WASHINGTON — With the highly-anticipated release of the Mueller report expected Thursday, the Trump campaign is ready to capitalize on the contents and has already determined a rebuttal strategy: a focus on “vindication” above all else.
In the days following the release of Attorney General Bill Barr’s four-page summary, the president repeatedly touted “complete and total exoneration” — and his 2020 team followed suit with slick videos, tailored fundraising appeals and even new merchandise.
Of the $30 million directly raised by the Trump campaign in the first three months of the year, $8.2 million came from contributions (of $200 or more) during the week after the Barr letter was released, which happened to coincide with the end of the fundraising quarter.
But a strong indication the response may be a little different once more Mueller material is made public comes directly from their pre-emptive messaging.
"We know that President Trump will — once again — be vindicated: no collusion and no obstruction," communications director Tim Murtaugh told NBC News, emphasizing vindication ahead of Thursday’s expected publication. "The tables should turn now, as it is time to investigate the liars who instigated the sham investigation in the first place."
The second part of that statement is also a preview of where the campaign plans to keep shifting the conversation to: the origins of the Russia probe itself, rather than the contents of the nearly 400-page document.
Campaign officials acknowledge it is quite difficult to predict and execute a coordinated reaction before knowing the extent of the findings. But over the last week, as Trump allies brace for previously unknown and potentially unflattering details in the report, the president has not used the word “exonerate” once and instead has seized on “no collusion” and "no obstruction!"
It’s unclear whether or not Trump has actually been advised to highlight vindication as a more accurate description now that the two-year investigation, which he deemed a “witch hunt hoax,” has wrapped up.
In his summary, Barr cited the special counsel's work, saying it explicitly concluded that there was no criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russians to influence the 2016 election. But he was far less definitive on the question of obstruction.
“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mueller writes in his report, according to a quote in Barr’s letter.