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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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)
Mueller's report said prosecutors didn't subpoena Trump because it would have created a "substantial delay" at a "late stage" in the investigation. But it said Mueller and his team of prosecutors viewed Trump's written answers as "inadequate."
Special counsel Robert Mueller investigated 11 instances in which he suspected that President Donald Trump had obstructed justice by trying to thwart his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election that Trump won, but ultimately he could not prove the president’s intent to break the law.
The 448-page report released Thursday concludes there is no evidence that Trump or his campaign aides coordinated with Russians to interfere on behalf of Trump’s 2016 presidential election campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton. While the investigation documented many links between people with ties to the Russian government and individuals involved in the Trump campaign, “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges,” Mueller wrote.
However, the report cites numerous efforts by an angst-ridden Trump to derail or impede the federal probe of suspected Russian meddling in the campaign.
Mueller found that in June 2017 Trump asked White House Counsel Don McGahn to pursue Mueller’s removal by the Justice Department in the midst of the prosecutor’s investigation, but that McGahn refused the president’s directive. Mueller said that McGahn feared that the prosecutor’s dismissal would provoke a U.S. constitutional crisis reminiscent of the 1973 Saturday Night Massacre at the height of the Watergate scandal when President Richard Nixon fired top Justice Department officials.
In other instances, Mueller investigated Trump’s firing of former FBI director James Comey, who led the Russia investigation before Mueller’s appointment; efforts to force then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take control of the investigation after he had already recused himself; dangling a possible pardon of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort for financial crimes he has been sentenced to prison for, and demands that McGahn deny that he had asked him to seek Mueller’s ouster.
The report said Trump’s attitude toward Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney, changed from “praise” to “castigation” after Cohen admitted that he lied to Congress about pursuing construction of a Trump Tower in Moscow long after Trump was telling voters in early 2016 that he had ended his Russian business ventures.
The report said that Trump at first publicly asserted that Cohen would not turn against him and privately passed messages of support to him. “But after Cohen began cooperating with the government in the summer of 2018, the president publicly criticized him, called him a ‘rat,’ and suggested that his family members had committed crimes,” the report said.
Mueller said, however, he could not reach a definitive decision on the obstruction issue. Attorney General William Barr reiterated Thursday as the report was released that no obstruction charges are warranted.
Mueller said in his report that “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
“The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred,” Mueller said. “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Part of Mueller’s problem in reaching a decision on obstruction of justice was Trump’s refusal to participate in a face-to-face interview with prosecutors. Instead, the president would only agree to provide written responses to questions posed by the prosecutors, under pre-arranged ground rules. Mueller’s final report contains 12 pages of Trump’s written responses. They included no questions regarding obstruction of justice.
Mueller’s report said prosecutors didn’t subpoena Trump because it would have created a “substantial delay” at a “late stage” in the investigation. But it said Mueller and his team of prosecutors viewed Trump’s written answers as “inadequate.”
In early 2018, after news organizations reported about Trump’s order to McGahn to seek Mueller’s ouster by the Deputy Attorney General and his refusal to comply, the Mueller report said the president told McGahn “to dispute the story and create a record stating he had not been ordered to have the special counsel removed.”
When Trump raised the issue again, questioning why McGahn had told Mueller about his demand to dismiss the prosecutor, “McGahn refused to back away from what he remembered happening and perceived the president to testing his mettle,” according to the report.
From the start of Trump’s presidency in January 2017, Mueller portrays a besieged White House. Before the release of the report, Attorney General William Barr described Trump as “frustrated and angered” at the outset “by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.”
Mueller said Trump “reacted negatively” to Mueller’s May 2017 appointment by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein after Sessions had removed himself from oversight of the probe.
He told advisers that it was “the end of my presidency,” the Mueller report said.
Shortly before the report went public, Barr told reporters that it exonerated Trump of colluding with Moscow and said that later, after assuming power, Trump had “no corrupt intent” to obstruct the probe.
Barr, a Trump appointee as the country’s top law enforcement official, said the president “took no act that in fact deprived” Mueller of “documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
Barr concluded, “Apart from whether [Trump’s] acts [as president] were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”
The attorney general said Trump’s lawyers were shown an advance copy of the Mueller report in recent days but were not allowed to make any changes. He said the president’s lawyers made no attempt to assert executive privilege about White House conversations to delete any material from the report.
Barr detailed extensive Russian interference in the U.S. election three years ago.
But Barr said Mueller “found no evidence that any Americans – including anyone associated with the Trump campaign – conspired or coordinated with the Russian government,” either in a disinformation campaign through social media accounts in the U.S. aimed at helping Trump defeat his opponent, Democrat Hillary Clinton, or in the hacking of computers at the Democratic National Committee to steal and then release emails damaging to Clinton.
Opposition Democrats protested that Barr held the news conference before the report was made public, saying it was an attempt to spin Mueller’s findings into a favorable view of Trump’s role.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer said in a statement they “believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling” of the Mueller investigation was for Mueller himself to testify publicly before congressional panels “as soon as possible.”
Moments after Barr finished speaking, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler called for Mueller to testify before his panel no later than May 23.
U.S. intelligence agencies in early 2017 assessed that Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, carried out a campaign to undermine the U.S. vote and had a clear preference for Trump to win..