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Donald Trump campaign didn’t collude with Russians, says Mueller report

The report was the close of a politically explosive 22-month investigation into whether Donald Trump or those around him conspired in Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign and whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

world Updated: Mar 25, 2019 08:05 IST
Chris Strohm and Shannon Pettypiece
Chris Strohm and Shannon Pettypiece
Bloomberg
Robert Mueller,Donald Trump,Russia
US President Donald Trump, who has proclaimed or tweeted “NO COLLUSION” more than 200 times and has routinely denounced Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “witch hunt.”(AP)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion with Russia but failed to exonerate President Donald Trump on obstruction of justice even though Attorney General William Barr said he didn’t find enough evidence to pursue an obstruction charge.

“The report found evidence on both sides of the question” on obstruction and “leaves unresolved what the special counsel views as difficult issues of law,” Barr wrote in a four-page letter to Congress on Sunday. Barr quoted Mueller as saying, “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Nonetheless, Barr said in his letter that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Trump read the report as clearing him of the two major allegations that have hung over his presidency -- collusion and obstruction of justice -- even as Democrats in Congress asserted their right to determine Trump’s guilt or innocence on those issues.

“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION,” Trump tweeted about an hour after Barr’s summary was released. He told reporters in Palm Beach, Florida, that it was “an illegal takedown that failed.”

On Russia’s hacking operation in 2016, Barr said, “The Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

The White House wasn’t involved in any review or discussion of the Mueller report and didn’t get a look at Barr’s summary ahead of time, according to a Justice Department official.

“The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement. “Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction. The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”

Barr issued his summary of Mueller’s conclusions -- and his determination with Rosenstein that there wasn’t enough evidence of obstruction of justice -- just two days after receiving Mueller’s final report. The special counsel wasn’t consulted on the letter that included the judgment on obstruction, according to a Justice Department official.

It was the close of a politically explosive 22-month investigation into whether Trump or those around him conspired in Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign and whether the president sought to obstruct justice.

It’s sure to be only the beginning of months of fighting in Congress -- and perhaps in the courts -- over how much should be disclosed from Mueller’s report. Barr said in a letter to Congress on Friday that after this initial summary he’ll consult with Mueller and Rosenstein to determine what other information from the report can be released to Congress and the public.”

Nothing in the Justice Department’s regulations on special counsels would prevent Barr from releasing Mueller’s report once certain material is redacted, including classified matters and information about continuing law enforcement operations. But Barr has cited the department’s policies against publicly criticizing someone who isn’t indicted -- and against indicting a sitting president.

Democratic lawmakers already have demanded the full report as well as the underlying evidence so they can pursue their own investigations.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a tweet, “In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify.”

But Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, a close Trump ally, said in a statement,“Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”

Trump, who has proclaimed or tweeted “NO COLLUSION” more than 200 times and has routinely denounced Mueller’s “witch hunt,” made no comment on the special counsel’s report over the weekend in Florida. He spent much of the time on his golf course with partners including Graham. The Democratic candidates who seek to replace him in 2020 joined in demanding the full release of the report.

Justice Department officials, who described Mueller’s report as comprehensive, said he didn’t recommend any additional indictments and doesn’t have any secret indictments under seal.

Some Trump allies said the outcome amounted to vindication much like their victory on election night in 2016, once again overcoming what they saw as an attempt by Democrats to stop Trump. It also removed some fear among Trump’s aides that Mueller’s findings would give Democrats solid ammunition to seek the president’s impeachment.

Before completing his probe, Mueller helped secure guilty pleas from five people involved in Trump’s presidential campaign -- including his campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, who became his first national security adviser -- though none admitted to conspiring with Russian operatives. He also indicted more than two dozen Russian hackers and military intelligence officers.

While Mueller didn’t seek an indictment of Trump or members of his family, they’re not necessarily in the clear.

Trump faces continuing risk from other investigations, with federal prosecutors in New York looking into his company, presidential campaign and inaugural committee. Mueller has been sharing some matters and handing off others to U.S. attorney’s offices in Manhattan; Alexandria, Virginia; and Washington, as well as the Justice Department’s national security division. That may keep alive cases that touch on his personal and business affairs.

Through a series of indictments, Mueller laid out a picture of operatives and hackers tied to Russian intelligence agencies doing all they could to help put Trump in the White House even as other Russian officials had scores of contacts with people tied to Trump’s campaign.

In the letter on Friday to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, Barr said, “I remain committed to as much transparency as possible, and I will keep you informed as to the status of my review.”

But Barr suggested during his confirmation hearing in February that he might exclude any criticism of Trump and others who weren’t charged with crimes from the information he’d share with Congress.

“If you’re not going to indict someone, then you don’t stand up there and unload negative information about the person,” he said.

In addition, Trump and his lawyers have indicated that before any details from Mueller’s findings are made public they want to see anything that would disclose the president’s private communications. They say they want to preserve their right to assert executive privilege, the doctrine that a president must have the ability to receive candid advice.

Congressional Democrats -- who now control the House -- say they want broad disclosure of Mueller’s investigative work, citing the earlier success of Republicans in pressuring the Justice Department to release details they said showed anti-Trump bias in the FBI. They have talked of issuing subpoenas to force disclosure and even public testimony by Mueller.

“It is imperative for Mr. Barr to make the full report public and provide its underlying documentation and findings to Congress,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Friday in a joint statement.

Mueller’s Silence

Mueller, a former FBI director, was appointed in May 2017 to conduct one of the most consequential investigations in US history. He hasn’t spoken a word in public since then, leaving it to the indictments he’s filed to build his case.

Beyond Russia’s election meddling -- which U.S. intelligence agencies found was aimed at hurting Democrat Hillary Clinton and ultimately at helping Trump win -- Mueller investigated possible collusion in the operation and whether Trump sought to obstruct justice in what the president has regularly denounced as a “witch hunt.”

In particular, Mueller investigated Trump’s effort to get then-FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into Flynn, the former national security adviser. Mueller also investigated whether Trump’s decision to fire Comey in May 2017 constituted obstruction of justice.

Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, appointed Mueller as special counsel days after Comey’s firing.

Mueller indicted and convicted Manafort, the former campaign chairman, for a series of financial crimes, and he’s been sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison. He also secured guilty pleas and cooperation agreements from Flynn, Trump’s deputy campaign chairman Richard Gates, campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos and Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

Mueller’s investigation cost about $25 million from his appointment in May 2017 through September 2018, according to the latest figures, provided by the Justice Department in December.

First Published: Mar 25, 2019 02:53 IST