The Justice Department said Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or co-ordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.
In a four-page letter to Congress, Attorney General William Barr said Mueller’s report “does not exonerate” the president on obstruction and instead “sets out evidence on both sides of the question.”
Barr released his four-page summary of Mueller’s report Sunday afternoon. Mueller wrapped up his investigation on Friday with no new indictments, bringing to a close a probe that has shadowed Trump for nearly two years.
But the broader fight is not over.
Congress’ top Democrats, Chuck Schumer of New York in the Senate and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, put out a statement saying Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers, including about his own decision not to prosecute on possible obstruction.
“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” they said. Trump’s claim of complete exoneration “directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” they added.
The Justice Department summary sets up a battle between Barr and Democrats, who called for Mueller’s full report to be released and vowed to press on with their own investigation.
Meanwhile the White House claimed vindication. For Trump, Barr’s report was a victory on a key question that has hung over his presidency from the start: Did his campaign work with Russia to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton?
President Donald Trump tweeted the report suggests “complete and total exoneration.”
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
Trump spoke to reporters before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington from a weekend at his private club in Florida, touting the Justice Department’s summary, saying “it was a shame” the nation had to go through the investigation.
Trump claims the report found “there was no collusion with Russia, there was no obstruction” and is also lashing out at the investigation, claiming without evidence that it was “an illegal takedown that failed.”
“The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said.
In reality, Mueller’s investigation left open the question of whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey and drafting an incomplete explanation about his son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign. That left it to the attorney general to decide.
After consulting with DOJ officials, Barr said he and his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, determined the evidence “is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offence.”
Barr, nominated to his job by Trump last fall, said their decision was based on the evidence uncovered by Mueller and not based on whether a sitting president can be indicted.
Barr’s chief of staff called White House counsel Emmet Flood at 3 p.m. Sunday to brief him on the report to Congress.
The findings were released to Congress and the public without any input from Mueller according to a senior Justice Department official who was not authorized to be identified and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Mueller’s investigation ensnared nearly three dozen people, senior Trump campaign operatives among them.
The probe illuminated Russia’s assault on the American political system, painted the Trump campaign as eager to exploit the release of hacked Democratic emails to hurt Democrat Hillary Clinton and exposed lies by Trump aides aimed at covering up their Russia-related contacts.
Mueller submitted his report to Barr instead of directly to Congress and the public because, unlike independent counsels such as Ken Starr in the case of President Bill Clinton, his investigation operated under the close supervision of the Justice Department, which appointed him.
Mueller was assigned to the job in May 2017 by Rosenstein, who oversaw much of his work. Barr and Rosenstein analyzed Mueller’s report on Saturday, labouring to condense it into a summary letter of main conclusions.
President Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr. also issued a statement saying that the summary of findings “proves what those of us with sane minds knew all along,” that there “was zero collusion with Russia.” Trump Jr. came under scrutiny during the investigation, for helping arrange that Trump Tower meeting with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham says “the cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed” by special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
Graham, a close ally of Trump, also says it is “a bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”
Top House Judiciary Republican Doug Collins said “there is no constitutional crisis.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “it is time we move on for the good of the nation.”
However, the House Judiciary Committee chairman says Congress needs to hear from Barr about his decision and see “all the underlying evidence.”
Mueller “clearly and explicitly is not exonerating the President, said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. in a series of tweets, but Barr took two days “to tell the American people that while the President is not exonerated, there will be no action by DOJ.”
“There must be full transparency in what Special Counsel Mueller uncovered to not exonerate the President from wrongdoing. DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work,” Nadler tweeted
Special Counsel Mueller worked for 22 months to determine the extent to which President Trump obstructed justice. Attorney General Barr took 2 days to tell the American people that while the President is not exonerated, there will be no action by DOJ.
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) March 24, 2019
Barr said that Mueller “thoroughly” investigated the question of whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia’s election interference, issuing more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtaining nearly 500 search warrants and interviewing 500 witnesses.
However, Mueller was not able to interview Trump in person.
Barr said Mueller also catalogued the president’s actions including “many” that took place in “public view,” a possible nod to Trump’s public attacks on investigators and witnesses.
In the letter, Barr said he concluded that none of Trump’s actions constituted a federal crime that prosecutors could prove in court.
Democrats are reminding that the House voted nearly unanimously, 420-0, to release the full Mueller report, which they say is more important not than ever.
“This is about transparency and truth — and a 4 page summary from Trump’s AG doesn’t cut it,” tweeted Rep. Mark Takano, D-Ca., the chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee. “The American people deserve to see the whole thing.”
Nadler also added that Barr would be called to testify before the House Judiciary Committee to explain his decision.
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 before @HouseJudiciary in the near future.
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) March 24, 2019
With files from News Staff