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Trump Moves to New Phase with Public Release of Mueller’s Report, Obstruction Charges Set for Release

Congress and the American people will for the first time see for themselves in detail what Mueller examined

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Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran last year after he abandoned the 2015 international agreement that gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for it limiting its nuclear activity. VOA

One of the dominant stories in the two-year presidency of Donald Trump moves into a new phase Thursday with the public release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into allegations of election collusion and obstruction of justice.

Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to comment about Mueller’s report at a morning news conference, with copies being sent a short time later to Congress and then posted online.

Congress and the American people will for the first time see for themselves in detail what Mueller examined as he and his team of federal investigators worked to determine whether Trump’s campaign or its associates worked with Russia in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 election that brought Trump to power.

U.S. intelligence agencies in early 2017 assessed that Russia, at the direction of President Vladimir Putin, carried out a campaign to undermine the vote and had a clear preference for Trump to win.

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FILE – William Barr testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be attorney general of the United States on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 15, 2019. VOA

Lightly redacted

People familiar with the 400-page Mueller report who spoke to the The Washington Post and The New York Times said the document released Thursday will be lightly redacted and go into great detail about the various allegations of Trump obstructing the federal investigation into Russia’s election-related activities.

Barr has released a short letter with his summary of Mueller’s findings, most notably that Trump’s campaign did not collude with Russia and that in Barr’s opinion the information from Mueller did not show enough to support charges the president obstructed justice.

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FILE – The letter from Attorney General William Barr to Congress on the conclusions reached by special counsel Robert Mueller in the Russia probe, March 24, 2019. VOA

The Mueller report would have been scrutinized in great detail even without Barr’s letter, but many will be looking to see how his conclusions appear when compared to the more complete underlying information that will be available to the public.

Congressional Democrats are expected to use subpoena powers to demand the full report. House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler said Wednesday that assuming the report is heavily redacted, his committee would “most certainly” issue subpoenas “in very short order.”

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FILE – Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice. VOA

Barr will be joined at his news conference by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who for much of the Mueller investigation was the one overseeing the probe at the Department of Justice. No one from Mueller’s team will take part in the briefing.

Trump said Wednesday he was considering holding his own news conference Thursday. Speaking on The Larry O’Connor Show on the local radio station WMAL, Trump said, “You’ll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow. Attorney General Barr is going to be giving a news conference. Maybe I’ll do one after that; we’ll see.”

‘Spinning the report’​

Nadler and the heads of key House committees strongly objected to the way the report’s release is being handled, saying Barr’s media appearance is “unnecessary and inappropriate, and appears designed to shape public perceptions of the report before anyone can read it.”

They called for Barr to cancel his news conference. But Georgia Congressman Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, defended Barr, accusing Democrats of “trying to spin the report.”

In addition, The New York Times reported Barr consulted with White House lawyers in recent days about the report, which helped Trump’s legal team in its preparations to respond to the release.

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House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., speaks with a reporter as he departs a news conference after the House voted to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, April 4, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. VOA

Nadler, along with the heads of the House intelligence, oversight, financial services and foreign affairs committees, said in a letter, “There is no legitimate reason for the department to brief the White House prior to providing Congress a copy of the report.”

“These new actions by the attorney general reinforce our concern that he is acting to protect President Trump,” they wrote.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the attorney general had “thrown out his credibility” with a “single-minded effort to protect” Trump.

“The American people deserve the truth, not a sanitized version of the Mueller Report approved by the Trump Admin,” she said on Twitter.

This is not the end

Whatever Congress and the public learn Thursday, the issues covered in the report are certain to endure in U.S. political discourse in the short term, with Barr scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1, followed by an appearance at the House Judiciary Committee the next day.

Nadler has also said he will “probably find it useful” to call Mueller and his team to testify before his committee.

Looking to the longer term, it is highly unlikely the investigation will fade to irrelevance before the next presidential election in November 2020.

In one measure of public demand for the information, several publishers are offering people the ability to purchase printed copies of the report, and pre-orders alone on Amazon’s website ranked among the site’s top 100 in book sales before the report was even released.

What have long been public are the legal ramifications of Mueller’s probe.

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FILE – Robert Mueller, as FBI director, testifies before the House Judiciary Committee hearing on Federal Bureau of Investigation oversight on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 13, 2013. VOA

Trump associates in jail

Some of the closest figures in Trump’s orbit pleaded guilty or were convicted of a range of offenses, often for lying about their contacts with Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign or just before he took office in January 2017.

Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his contacts with Russia’s then-ambassador to Washington, Sergey Kislyak, just before Trump assumed power, and is awaiting sentencing. A low-level foreign affairs adviser, George Papadopoulos, was jailed for 12 days after he pleaded guilty to lying to investigators about his Russia contacts.

Trump 2016 campaign chairman Paul Manafort is in the early stages of a 7½-year prison term after being convicted and pleading guilty in two cases linked to financial corruption from his years of lobbying for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

Rick Gates, a business associate of Manafort’s and his deputy on the Trump campaign, was a key witness against Manafort at his trial, after pleading guilty to conspiring with him in financial wrongdoing from their years as lobbyists for Ukraine. He is awaiting sentencing.

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Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, returns to Capitol Hill for a fourth day of testimony as Democrats pursue a flurry of investigations into Trump’s White House, businesses and presidential campaign, in Washington, March 6, 2019. VOA

Trump’s one-time personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to helping Trump make $280,000 in hush money payments to two women, an adult film actress and a Playboy model, to keep them quiet before the 2016 election about alleged decade-old sexual encounters they claimed to have had with Trump. Cohen, headed soon to prison for a three-year term, also admitted lying to Congress about the extent of Trump’s efforts during the 2016 campaign to build a Trump skyscraper in Moscow, a time when candidate Trump was telling voters he had ended his Russian business ventures.

Long-time Trump adviser and friend Roger Stone is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress about his contacts with the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks in conjunction with the release of emails hacked by Russian operatives from the computers of Democratic officials that were damaging to Trump’s 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.

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In addition, Mueller also charged 13 Russian nationals with trying to influence the 2016 election by tricking Americans into following fake social media accounts with material favorable to Trump and against Clinton. Another dozen Russian military intelligence officers were charged with the theft of the emails from the Democratic officials. None of the Russians is ever likely to face a trial in the U.S. because the two countries do not have an extradition treaty. (VOA)

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William Barr Defends Handling of Special Counsel Mueller Report

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Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 1, 2019. VOA

U.S. Attorney General William Barr appeared before Congress on Wednesday to defend his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s March 22 report on Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election, saying the decision to release an early summary of the report was his and dismissing questions about his depiction of Mueller’s findings.

In a hearing marked by partisan acrimony, Democrats grilled the attorney general over his four-page summary letter to Congress and Mueller’s subsequent complaint about the summary.

Democrats accused Barr of grossly understating evidence of President Donald Trump’s misconduct in the summary in an effort to justify his controversial decision to exonerate the president of obstruction of justice during the investigation.

‘My baby’

“It was my baby whether or not to disclose it to the public,” Barr told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I determined that it was in the public interest for the department to announce the investigation’s bottom-line conclusions — that is, the determination of whether a provable crime has been committed or not.”

Much of the hearing focused on a letter Mueller wrote to Barr on March 27 in which the special counsel complained that Barr’s summary “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” his office’s work and conclusions and urged the attorney general to release the report’s executive summaries without delay.

In a subsequent phone call, Barr said, the special counsel expressed concern about how his findings were being portrayed in the media. However, he said Mueller did not characterize the summary as either “misleading” or “inaccurate.”

Barr said he turned down the special counsel’s request because he did not want to release “additional portions of the report in piecemeal fashion, leading to public debate over incomplete information.” The Justice Department released a redacted version of the 448-page report on April 18.

The special counsel wrote in his final report that the evidence was not sufficient to charge any Trump campaign member with conspiring with Russian government representatives to meddle in the 2016 election, but the office did not draw conclusions about whether the president had obstructed justice.

Decision defended

That left it to the attorney general “to determine whether the conduct described in the report constituted a crime,” Barr wrote in his March 24 summary letter to Congress, adding that he and his No. 2, outgoing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, had examined the evidence and determined that it was not enough to support obstruction charges against Trump.

Barr defended his decision, saying the lack of “an underlying crime” — in this case, the absence of a criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia — made it difficult to prove Trump’s “criminal intent,” which is key in proving obstruction of justice.

Asked by the committee chairman, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, if he “felt good” about his decision, Barr responded, “Yes.”

The Mueller report examined 11 instances of potential obstruction of justice, including an attempt by Trump in June 2017, just weeks after Mueller’s appointment, to get the special counsel fired, and then get his then-White House counsel, Don McGahn, to deny a newspaper account about it.

But Barr defended the president’s right to fire a special counsel and said none of the episodes documented by Mueller constituted obstruction of justice. And when Democrats pressed him to denounce the president for getting underlings to lie on his behalf, Barr demurred.

“I’m not in the business of determining when lies are told to the American people,” Barr said. “I’m in the business of determining whether a crime has been committed.”

Sessions’ replacement

Barr, a former attorney general in the administration of the late President George H.W. Bush in the 1990s, returned to the Justice Department in February after Trump tapped him last year to replace his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom he fired in November.

Barr’s confirmation hearing was dominated by questions about his expansive views of presidential powers and his past criticism of the Mueller investigation. In a 19-page memo last June to Rosenstein, who then oversaw the Russia investigation, Barr called the special counsel’s obstruction investigation “fatally conceived.”

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Special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election is photographed, April 18, 2019, in Washington. VOA
Democrats accused Barr of bias.  “You’re biased in the situation and you’ve not been objective,” said California Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris, a 2020 presidential candidate.  Republicans came to Barr’s defense, with Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas accusing Democrats of impugning the attorney general’s integrity.
Barr was also widely criticized for holding a news conference to discuss the findings of the Mueller report hours before either members of Congress or journalists had a chance to read it.The attorney general told reporters that the special counsel’s probe did not find that Trump or anyone in his campaign had coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 election, and that later, after he assumed power, Trump had “no corrupt intent” to obstruct the probe.

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Barr said the president “took no act that in fact deprived” Mueller of “documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”

The Justice Department informed the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday night that Barr would not testify at a planned hearing Thursday. This raises the prospect that Democrats will hold the nation’s top law enforcement official in contempt of Congress. (VOA)