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Democrats in Congress Squarely Responsible for the Shutdown: Donald Trump

"How much more suffering must the president cause before leader McConnell realizes it's time to move ahead without him? It seems clear to everybody but leader McConnell that Congress needs to move forward without the president"

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Thousands march across US to protest against Trump. VOA

Although a majority of Americans blame the U.S. president for the prolonged partial government shutdown, Donald Trump on Monday told farmers that the opposition Democrats in Congress are squarely responsible.

“They will not approve the measures we need to keep American safe,” Trump told a national convention of farmers in New Orleans where he defended his demand for billions of dollars for a border wall with Mexico.

Drones and sensors are not adequate for border security, Trump added, contending only a “strong steel or concrete barrier” can prevent illegal immigrants from entering the United States.

“I will never ever back down” from efforts to keep America safe, Trump vowed in the speech to the 100th annual convention of the American Farm Bureau.

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President Donald Trump talks with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House before departing for the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention in New Orleans, Jan. 14, 2019, in Washington. VOA

He accused Democrats of refusing to approve money for a wall because they want to use it as an issue for next year’s presidential campaign when Trump faces re-election.

Six major polls show that half or more Americans hold the president and his Republican Party responsible for the shutdown. And 63 percent of American voters support a Democratic proposal to reopen parts of the government that do not involve border security while negotiating funding for a border wall, according to a Quinnipiac University national poll released Monday.

Earlier in the day, Trump told White House reporters he would not, at least for the moment, declare a national emergency to build the wall.

“I’m not going to do that,” Trump said as he left the White House to speak to farmers in New Orleans.

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U.S. Internal Revenue Services (IRS) employees rally in front of the Federal Building against the ongoing U.S. federal government shutdown, in Ogden, Utah, U.S., Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

About 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or working without pay during the record-long partial government shutdown which stretched into its 24th day Monday.

“We are open to resolution and negotiation,” White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway told VOA News on Monday, indicating that communication is under way between the executive branch and Democrats, but she provided no details.

Trump has rejected a call by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, one of his staunchest congressional supporters, to reopen shuttered agencies for three weeks while he holds more talks with Democratic leaders about his plan for a wall along the 3,200-kilometer southern U.S. border.

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A National Park entrance fee collection service is temporarily suspended at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park, the lowest point in North America, during the partial U.S. government shutdown, in Death Valley, California, U.S., Jan. 10, 2019. VOA

Graham told the Fox News Sunday television program he would still support a presidential emergency declaration to build the border wall without congressional authorization after giving talks another chance.

“I would urge him to open up the government for a short period of time, like three weeks, before he pulls the plug, see if we can get a deal. If we can’t at the end of three weeks, all bets are off,” Graham said.

“I’m not interested,” Trump replied to a reporter’s query Monday about Graham’s suggestion, contending that top Democrats in Congress could quickly end the shutdown.

The Democrat-led House of Representatives has passed several measures that would reopen the shuttered agencies while border security talks continue.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, center, speaks as she stands next to Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, left, and Sen. Dick Durbin right, following their meeting with President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, Jan. 9, 2019. VOA

Another such bill is up for consideration Tuesday that would reopen the agencies through Feb. 1, and another that would open them through Feb. 28 is expected to go before the House on Thursday.

House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi on Monday used Twitter to blame Republicans for starting the shutdown, and called for Trump to allow the Senate to vote to end it, arguing furloughed federal workers, who have already missed one paycheck, “are facing a life or death situations” just so the president “can try to force taxpayers to fund a border wall he promised Mexico would pay for.”

In a speech on the Senate floor Monday, Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to allow a vote on legislation already approved by the House of Representatives to end the shutdown.

Also Read: ‘Broken Border’ More Dangerous Than ‘Government Shutdown’ : Donald Trump

“How much more suffering must the president cause before leader McConnell realizes it’s time to move ahead without him? It seems clear to everybody but leader McConnell that Congress needs to move forward without the president,” Schumer said. “It’s time for leader McConnell to realize he has the power to break this impasse, passing the House legislation to reopen the government.” (VOA)

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No Evidence of Trump ‘Collusion’ with Russia in 2016 Elections: Mueller in Final Report

Mueller reached no conclusion and punted the decision to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein

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Trump knew nothing about son-in-law and White House adviser Jared Kushner's use of the WhatsApp encrypted messaging tool. VOA

In a big legal and political win for U.S. President Donald Trump, Special Counsel Robert Mueller concluded in his final report that there was no evidence that Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign or anyone associated with it colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the vote, according to a summary of the confidential report released on Sunday by Attorney General William Barr.

That finding was emphatic, and validated Trump’s long-standing insistence that “there was no collusion” between his campaign and Russian hackers and meddlers who sought to change the outcome of Trump’s presidential battle with Democrat Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state. Using Mueller’s own words, the Barr letter stated that “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice in the course of the investigation, Mueller reached no conclusion and punted the decision to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, according to a letter Barr wrote to top Democrats and Republicans on the House and Senate judiciary committees summarizing the report’s “principal conclusions.” Complicating Mueller’s challenge in getting to the bottom of the question was Trump’s refusal to answer questions under oath and instead provide written answers. Barr and Rosenstein – who appointed Mueller as Special Counsel and oversaw the investigation– concluded that the evidence developed during the investigation “is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

That finding is certain to be a key bone of contention for congressional Democrats who are investigating Trump and his administration, especially given the Special Counsel’s assertion that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, tweeted that “The fact that Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report & documentation be made public without any further delay.”

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., speaks at an Economic Club of Washington luncheon gathering in Washington, March 8, 2019. VOA

Mueller submitted his report to Barr late Friday, nearly two years after he was appointed to investigate allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election and collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

After combing through the report over the weekend, Barr submitted a four-page letter to Congress absolving Trump of any collusion with the Russians or obstruction of justice in blocking the criminal investigation. Barr’s letter was made public shortly after it was delivered to Congress.

“It was complete and total exoneration,” Trump told reporters in Florida before returning to Washington Sunday afternoon. “This was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to be looking at their other side.”

Here are five key take-aways from Barr’s summary of the Mueller report:

Trump was right: There was no collusion

The central question before Mueller was whether members of the Trump campaign or any other Americans conspired with Russians to tip the 2016 campaign in favor of the real estate tycoon. On that score, the Mueller report delivers a categorical vindication of the president.

While Mueller’s investigators uncovered evidence of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, “[the] investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the summary quotes Mueller as writing.

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FILE – Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump gives a thumbs up as his campaign manager Paul Manafort looks on during Trump’s walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 21, 2016. VOA

The special counsel interpreted “coordination” fairly broadly to include both tacit and express agreements.But he found no evidence that members of the Trump campaign accepted offers of help from Russian operatives. “There was really an affirmative ‘No’” said Eric Jaso, a former associate special counsel for the Whitewater affair during former President Bill Clinton’s administration.“If they’d gone along and said yes, that would have fallen under the tacit agreement category.”

Mueller punts obstruction of justice question

Mueller’s decision to punt the question of obstruction of justice struck many legal experts as unusual.

The Special Counsel took up the question after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey over the Russia investigation and after Comey claimed that Trump had asked him to stop investigating his former national security advisor, Michael Flynn.

But Mueller drew no conclusion about whether Trump’s actions during the investigation amounted to obstruction of justice, according to the Barr summary.

“Instead, for each one of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of” whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr wrote.

With Mueller leaving the matter unresolved, it was left to the attorney general to make a determination. Barr wrote that after consulting with Justice Department officials, he and Rosenstein concluded that there was not enough evidence that Trump had committed obstruction of justice. The determination, he added, was made irrespective of a long-standing Justice Department guidance that a sitting president can’t be indicted.

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DOJ Notification to Congress Regarding the Conclusion of the Mueller Investigation. VOA

Before taking the helm of the Justice Department last month, Barr had written critically of the Mueller probe and called the investigation of Trump for possible obstruction of justice “fatally flawed.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called the decision “concerning” and said he’ll ask Barr to testify before the panel in the near future.

Jaso said the fact that Barr made the determination in concert with Rosenstein provides Barr with political cover.

“He can’t be just painted as toady of the president,” Jaso said.

No additional indictments

The Special Counsel investigation led to the indictments of 37 individuals and entities, mostly Russian operatives and a handful of former Trump associates. In the run-up to the Mueller report, speculation was rife that the Special Counsel would announce new indictments against individuals in the president’s orbit.

But Barr’s summary says the Special Counsel does not recommend any additional indictments in his report and says that there are no indictments under seal that have yet to be made public.

A redacted version in the works

The full extent of Mueller’s findings, including evidence concerning obstruction of justice, will remain unknowable until a more complete version of the report is released. In his letter, Barr indicated that he’ll share a redacted version of the full report at a future date.Barr said that he’s asked the Special Counsel to identify confidential information that must be kept classified and that as soon as “that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining” what can be released. Democrats are demanding full disclosure and vowing to compel the attorney general to comply.

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Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election and possible connection to the Trump campaign, at the Capitol in Washington, June 21, 2017. VOA

Thorough investigation

Defenders of the Mueller investigation found a measure of vindication in the thoroughness with which the veteran prosecutor and former FBI director carried out the probe. According to Barr’s letter, the Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

By all accounts, Mueller left no stones untouched in his dogged effort to probe whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow and whether the president sought to impede the investigation that followed.

ALSO READ: Robert Mueller Probe Concludes, Political Parlor Game Has Just Begun

But Mueller appears to have steered clear of one line of inquiry that the president had said was off limits: Trump’s finances and whether the president’s business interests in Russia led him and his campaign into collusion.

“It does not say that thirdly or furthermore we investigated whether the Trump campaign or Trump himself had a desire to ingratiate himself with the Russians which somehow made him vulnerable to this effort,” Jaso said. (VOA)