WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump was in the private quarters of his Florida club Sunday afternoon when two White House lawyers briefed him on the details of Attorney General William Barr's four-page summary of the Russia investigation.
Trump, just back from a round of golf, expressed vindication, though no great display of emotion, two people close to him said. An hour later, as he boarded Air Force One to fly to Washington, a very different Trump emerged.
Speaking with barely concealed fury, he told reporters, "It's a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it's a shame that your president has had to go through this." He denigrated the investigation, led by special counsel Robert Mueller, as an "illegal takedown that failed" and said those responsible for it should face scrutiny.
Trump's aides warned him not to react to the findings with a sense of triumphalism, people close to him said. But the president, who has long felt victimized by the Russia investigation and the shadow it has cast over his legitimacy, presented Barr's statements as an unalloyed victory.
"There was no collusion with Russia," he declared. "There was no obstruction and — none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration."
For Trump, it was a deeply satisfying end to one of the most fraught weekends of his presidency. Like everyone else in the country, he had been forced to wait, while in Washington, Barr and a small circle of officials at the Justice Department pored over Mueller's report and decided what to make public.
Trump's remarks, aides said, were an early taste of how he is likely to react to his new political reality. He plans to attend a rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on Thursday, which will give him a platform to go on the offensive.
Trump was already at his club, Mar-a-Lago, when the special counsel submitted his findings to Barr on Friday afternoon. The lack of additional indictments was the first indication that the 22-month investigation of the Trump campaign's ties to Russia would not be as damaging to Trump as many once feared.
Aides described Trump as generally upbeat but still preoccupied by what Barr would decide to disclose. Surrounded by aides, Trump was uncharacteristically silent, staying off Twitter and making no public statements.
On Friday evening, Trump and his wife, Melania, had dinner on the patio at Mar-a-Lago with their son, Barron, and the first lady's parents.
On Sunday, Trump played golf with three GOP political allies from South Carolina: Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Rep. Trey Gowdy, and former Rep. Mick Mulvaney, who now serves as the acting White House chief of staff.
Early in the day, Trump broke his Twitter silence, posting, in quick succession, "Good Morning, Have a Great Day!" and "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!" — which could be read as either expressions of hope or growing confidence.
At 3 p.m., Barr's chief of staff, Brian Rabbitt, called one of the White House lawyers, Emmett Flood, and read him the letter that Barr planned to send to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees.
In an unusual staffing decision, Flood and White House counsel Pat Cipollone accompanied Trump to Florida for the weekend. They were in constant contact with him about the status of Barr's deliberations.
Cipollone and Flood then briefed Trump about Barr's letter as he was preparing to leave Mar-a-Lago for the airport. "This is very good," he said, according to deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley.
The White House does not yet have access to the full Mueller report, Gidley said, and it was not clear when, or even whether, the president would get complete access.
Minutes after the release of Barr's letter, the White House issued a statement in which press secretary Sarah Sanders said: "The special counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction."
In fact, Barr said Mueller chose not to render a judgment about whether the president was guilty of obstruction of justice.
The White House followed that up with a statement that highlighted three passages from Barr's letter: that the special counsel found no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia; that Barr found no actions that constituted "obstructive conduct," and that the Justice Department did not find evidence sufficient to "establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense."
Gidley dismissed questions about why the president claimed to have been exonerated when the report did not say that. "Prosecutors don't exonerate; they prosecute," he said. "They don't prove a negative. That's just silly."
The White House quickly went on the offensive, holding a briefing call for a group of surrogates after the letter was released. In an e-mail sent by the White House, Trump's surrogates were given a detailed list of talking points, including the falsehood that the report served as a "complete and total exoneration" for Trump.
The e-mail, which was obtained by the New York Times, said "the president and the administration fully cooperated with the investigation," which is also not entirely true. Trump declined to ever speak in person with special counsel investigators despite a lengthy negotiation process.
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, was among the president's senior aides who took the opportunity to remind the public that what she had been saying all along — "no collusion" — was correct. Conway shared a photo on Twitter that showed her holding up signs that read "Conclusion? Collusion" and "Illusion Delusion."
Conway said she had been correct on July 13, 2017, the day she went on TV and brandished the signs, "and many days since."
Despite Trump's threat to go after those involved in the investigation, Gidley said he had no plans to ask the attorney general to investigate Democrats.
Gidley sought to cast the results of the investigation as "a great day for the American people. Their vote for Donald Trump was vindicated."
He described an ebullient Trump, who he said spent the flight chatting with his staff members, making phone calls and watching TV. In addition to Mulvaney and himself, he said that Dan Scavino, Trump's social media aide, was in his office on the plane.
Other staff members delighted in watching the coverage on MSNBC, a rare change from Fox News on the presidential aircraft.
"He's feeling very good," Gidley said. "He's in a really good mood. He's just very happy with how it all turned out. "