A senior White House official told Olivia Nuzzi a couple of weeks ago, in reference to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, “There will be plenty of unfavorable things about the president in the full report, which we think will eventually come out, so let’s not go overboard saying there’s no wrongdoing.”
That was a sensible perspective. It was also too late. Donald Trump and his loyalists decided weeks ago that the Mueller report “could not have been better,” and “totally exonerated” the president. It was a triumph for the ages, which humiliated the president’s enemies, and transformed the president into a heroic figure.
I’m reminded of a piece Ashley Parker wrote last week on the White House’s over-the-top boasts about the report officials in the West Wing had not read.
[W]hen the Justice Department releases Mueller’s redacted report in coming days, the reality is likely to be far more nuanced – including potentially damaging new details of alleged misdeeds by Trump or his campaign, even if they fall short of criminal wrongdoing.
That puts the president and his defenders in a potentially thorny position: Could Trump’s cries of “total exoneration” become his own “Mission Accomplished”?
A week later, I think we have an answer.
“Mission Accomplished,” of course, was the text on the banner above George W. Bush in 2003 when the then-president declared the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq. Bush never literally spoke the words “mission accomplished” in his remarks, but they appeared over his head during the speech and his presidency was haunted by the phrase.
As conditions in Iraq deteriorated, the death toll mounted, and the arguments in support of the invasion evaporated, that two-word banner came to represent premature celebration. It quickly became a warning to future presidents, tempted by hubris.
Some part of the president seems to realize he went too far in touting the findings of the report he hadn’t read. This morning, for example, he described the document via Twitter as “the Crazy Mueller Report.” He went on to put the word “report” in scare quotes – as if the document isn’t actually a report at all – before condemning elements as “total bulls**t.”
So according to the president, the report that “could not have been better” for the White House, and which offered him a “complete and total exoneration,” is now “crazy”?
Premature celebration, indeed.