Trump Russia Probe

A copy of a letter from Attorney General William Barr advising Congress that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded his investigation, is shown Friday, March 22, 2019 in Washington. Robert Mueller on Friday turned over his long-awaited final report on the contentious Russia investigation that has cast a dark shadow over Donald Trump's presidency, entangled Trump's family and resulted in criminal charges against some of the president's closest associates. (AP Photo/Jon Elswick) ORG XMIT: DCJE102

As predictably as the sun came up Thursday morning, some Louisiana Republicans started pronouncing their takes on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s report almost as soon as the 448-page document was finally released.

And just as predictably, these politicians read from the same script they’ve been following ever since Donald Trump solemnly swore that he’d faithfully execute the Office of President more than two years ago.

U.S. Rep. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, Louisiana’s top-ranking member of Congress, declared that there was no collusion with Russia and no obstruction of justice, and argued that “Democrats owe the American people an apology.”

U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, a candidate against Gov. John Bel Edwards this fall, suggested that someone should now “investigate the real collusion with the Hillary Clinton campaign (John Bel’s candidate)” and said he’s “proud to continue to stand with my friend, President Donald J. Trump.”

U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Port Barre, said that "there was no evidence of criminal collusion or obstruction by the President or his campaign," when the report clearly outlined plenty of evidence, despite the absence of criminal recommendations.

To their credit, other Louisiana Republican lawmakers withheld immediate judgment, including U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy. U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson, R-Benton, reiterated the no obstruction, no collusion conclusion, but also said he was reviewing the report further. U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, R-Baton Rouge, noted that everyone is likely to see what they want to see in the report, but at least acknowledged the “stupidity” it described. So for now, I’ll withhold my judgment on their judgment.

Still, as more people read more of the tome, the damning picture it painted became crystal clear.

Yes, the special counsel’s office did not recommend charges that the Trump team conspired with Russia or obstructed justice. But nor did it give anyone a clean slate.

It noted that "[t]he investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts." It said that the counsel was constrained by a Justice Department rule against charging a sitting president, but also laid out a compelling set of circumstances suggesting that Trump repeatedly tried to interfere with the probe. He might have derailed it, in fact, if key aides hadn’t taken it upon themselves to simply ignore his intemperate orders.

More broadly, the report made abundantly clear that Trump put his own concerns above the country’s, created a culture of dishonesty, and failed to conduct himself with integrity. Put criminality aside for a moment. Is anyone really OK with that?

And seriously, didn’t we know that already? The Trump in this report is the same Trump we’ve been watching all along.

More intriguing are the characters around him.

Some had moments of clarity. The document details how Don McGahn, the former White House counsel, refused to order Mueller fired and refused to lie when press reports came out detailing how Trump had asked him to. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also refused to lie on the president’s behalf about the fact that it was Trump’s decision to fire former FBI chief James Comey.

Even onetime campaign manager Corey Lewandowski resisted a presidential request to demand that then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions un-recuse himself from overseeing the probe. Lewandowski instead routed the directive to another aide, who also ignored it.

Others sunk to Trump’s level. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied when she insisted that FBI agents had personally contacted her to say they were glad to see Comey go. Under oath to Mueller’s team, she called that a slip of the tongue. And new Attorney General William Barr put a misleadingly benign gloss on the findings before releasing them to the country.

That’s what’s expected of people who work for Trump, it seems. Why anyone would put their reputation at stake by doing so has always been a mystery to me.

As for why anyone serving in Congress, an independent branch of government, would continue to defend the president’s behavior after the report came out? That part’s truly confounding.

Follow Stephanie Grace on Twitter, @stephgracela.