The game is not over for Trump
Zhang Tengjun

Editor's note: Zhang Tengjun is an assistant research fellow at the Department for American Studies of the China Institute of International Studies. The article reflects the author's views and not necessarily those of CGTN.

The Russiagate investigation is finally complete as the 448-page redacted version of the Special Council Robert Mueller's report was released this week. U. S. Attorney General William Barr claimed that Mueller had found no evidence of collusion between Trump's campaign and the Russian government during a press conference held just before he submitted the redacted report to Capitol Hill and released a more redacted one to the public.

Trump tweeted "Game Over" with a photoshopped image from Game of Thrones, mocking the Democrats. However, investigations on Trump are far from over. Democrats-led House committees have launched numerous probes targeting Trump and his team, not only on Russiagate, but also on inauguration funding, taxes, misbehavior… the list could get longer.

Barr's decisive role

In a joint statement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer accused Barr of "deliberately distorting" Mueller's report, saying that several instances of presidential actions cited by the report appeared to undercut Barr's conclusion.

This is not the first time Democrats have been unhappy with Barr. Since the AG received the report last month, Democrats had called on him to release the full version immediately. At that time, they were extremely concerned about potential collusion between the Justice Department and White House over the report.

Moreover, Barr's communication with the White House and his decision to hold a press conference before submitting it to Congress infuriated Democrats. As Senator Kamala Harris, who is running for president, tweeted, "Barr is acting more like Trump's defense attorney than the nation's Attorney General."

Attorney General William Barr answers a question during a press conference hours before releasing a redacted version of the Mueller report, on April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. /VCG Photo

Attorney General William Barr answers a question during a press conference hours before releasing a redacted version of the Mueller report, on April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. /VCG Photo

Democrats hope to draw attention to the report by releasing its full text. For them, it is still uncertain if they could make it public by congressional subpoena. According to the Special Counsel regulations, the attorney general may determine whether to release the report to the public and has no duty to disclose the full report. Democrats have little choice but to keep pressing Barr.

It's an election thing

The next big fight in Congress will be on obstruction. Although Mueller did not draw any conclusion on it, he noted that "Congress has the authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice." That hands Democrats a roadmap for further investigations. The devil is always in the details.

Though media outlets seem to depict the release of Mueller's report as a watershed moment in Trump's presidency, the biggest damage to Trump from it came in long before that. For the past two years, Trump had struggled to prove his innocence, and his domestic and foreign policies have suffered great constraints as a result of the investigation. The lack of conclusive evidence makes it harder for Trump to be hurt. But Democrats will not give up so easily.

The Russiagate investigation is unique in that its result not only concerns the legitimacy of Trump's presidency but also affects the chance of his reelection. While the Democratic presidential primary campaign for 2020 is a dead heat with nearly 20 candidates, Trump has largely locked in the Republican presidential nomination due to his sky-high support within GOP. The Democrats have to seize every opportunity to sink Trump's presidency and make the election campaign of the Republican Party not so easy.

The focus of the "Russia collusion" investigation has never been on the investigation itself, not even on Russia, but on the "collusion". From the very beginning, the investigation has been a political game between the two parties. Democrats are desperate to demonstrate Trump campaign's ties to Russia. The best outcome would be to oust Trump from office. Trump and the Republicans will do everything they can to distance themselves from the Democrats' "witch- hunt."

This is not a fair fight, not because of the rules, but because of the players. In that sense, what Mueller's report says doesn't matter the most, since both parties already have their answers and a fighting plan in place. The release of the report is just a reminder to both sides that it is time for another round of the game.

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at opinions@cgtn.com.)