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AG: Mueller clears Trump of conspiring with Russia

Special counsel Robert Mueller walks with his wife

Special counsel Robert Mueller walks with his wife Ann Mueller on in Washington D.C. on March 24. Credit: Getty Images/Tasos Katopodis

WASHINGTON — Special counsel Robert Mueller found that President Donald Trump and his campaign did not coordinate with Russia during his campaign and the report also resulted in no obstruction-of-justice charges against him, according to a summary of Mueller’s report Sunday.

Those conclusions to the two most significant issues in the investigation were delivered by Attorney General William Barr in a four-page letter that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein wrote to summarize the confidential report that Mueller submitted to him Friday.

“The Special Counsel's investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Barr’s letter said.

But Mueller reached no decision on whether Trump obstructed the investigation, Barr wrote, quoting Mueller’s submission saying that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Yet Barr wrote that he and Rosenstein decided that the evidence that Mueller had gathered about the president’s actions “is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

Barr’s summary of Mueller’s conclusions ricocheted through the Capitol and lit up cable and network news, handing Trump and Republicans a victory while dealing Democrats a blow as both sides look ahead to the 2020 presidential campaign.

Trump celebrated Barr’s summary of the conclusions of a 22-month investigation that has dogged him since his election, leaving a dark cloud over the White House that he repeatedly castigated as a “witch hunt” as he protested his innocence.

 “It was a complete and total exoneration,” Trump said as he left Florida, where he had spent the weekend. “It was shame our country had to go through this. To be honest, it was shame your president had to go through this.”

But Trump also went on the offensive against Democrats, who accused him of working with Russia and obstruction justice, and the investigation, which he said had hurt a lot of innocent people.

“This was an illegal take down that failed,” Trump said. “And hopefully someone is going to look at the other side.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had put a lot of stock in Mueller’s investigation, issued a statement that questioned Barr’s summary in his letter and rejected Trump’s claim that Mueller exonerated him.

“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” they said. “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 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 and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.”

They added, “Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the Committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise. The American people have a right to know.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said, "The Special Counsel’s conclusions confirm the President’s account that there was no effort by his campaign to conspire or coordinate with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election." 

“However, Russia’s ongoing efforts to interfere with our democracy are dangerous and disturbing, and I welcome the Special Counsel's contributions to our efforts to understand better Russia's activities in this regard," he said.

Meanwhile, Trump and his associates face other lawsuits and investigation in New York and Washington federal courts, as well as in Congress.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the Judiciary Committee chairman, said in a tweet that he would call Barr to testify before his committee about his summary in “light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report.”

In response to the pressure from Democrats and most Republicans to make public Mueller’s full report — Nadler said he would issue a subpoena and fight to the Supreme Court to force its release — Barr in his letter said he would try to release what he could.

“I am mindful of the public interest in this matter,” Barr wrote in this letter. “For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.”

He added that he will ask Mueller’s help in identifying grand jury material in the report that by law cannot be made public, as well as materials that might affect other investigations or prosecutions still going on.

Barr’s summary does not explain or discuss some other key questions about Mueller’s investigation, including why Mueller did not issue a subpoena to require Trump to submit to an interview — though it hints that was not needed because Trump was not accused of a crime.

The summary indicates that Mueller did not assess the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016 between Donald Trump Jr. and campaign officials with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, or Trump’s pursuit of a Trump Tower in Moscow as late as the Republican convention as acts of coordination with Russia.

But Barr's summary specifically addressed what it said Mueller identified as the two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election: the Internet Research Agency that conducted disinformation on social media and the Russian government’s hack and posting of Hillary Clinton’s and Democrats’ emails.

Mueller delivered slightly different findings on each, Barr said. Mueller said he found no one “conspired or knowingly coordinated” with the agency — which indicated someone may have coordinated with the disinformation effort but may not have known it was a Russian operation.

 Mueller said no one in the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the GRU efforts “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

The finding on obstruction of justice by Trump — who said he fired FBI Director James Comey while thinking about his Russia investigation, dangled pardons before targets of the probe and repeatedly attacked Mueller — proved to be a more complicated issue for Mueller.

 After a thorough investigation, Mueller decided not to make a “traditional prosecutorial judgment,” and drew no conclusion, and instead set out evidence on both sides of the question and left the issue unresolved, Barr said.

Barr said he and Rosenstein determined that Mueller’s catalog of the president’s actions — “many of which took place in public view” — does not identify any actions that “in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct” or had a tie to an underlying crime and were done with “corrupt intent.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member, pointed out that Barr wrote a memo months before becoming attorney general saying that "the president couldn't commit obstruction, so it’s no surprise he reached the same conclusion now."  

Barr delivered the letter to the top four members of the House and Senate judiciary committees Sunday afternoon after spending the past two days with Rosenstein reviewing and summarizing what officials called a comprehensive report.

Barr said Mueller’s 19-attorney team was assisted by 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and other professional staff. They interviewed about 500 witnesses, issued 2,800 subpoenas, nearly 500 search warrants, about 300 pen registers and orders for records of communications, and 13 evidence requests to foreign governments.

The top-line results emerged from the most extensive investigation of a president in two decades that began more than two years ago, first by the FBI and then, after Trump fired Comey in May 2017, by Mueller, who was appointed by Rosenstein.

Over the course of his investigation, Mueller charged 34 people, including former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Michael Flynn and former campaign aide George Papadopoulos and his personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.

Mueller won guilty pleas and cooperation from five Trump aides, and indicted Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone on charges he lied to Congress and tampered with a witness.

Mueller also indicted three Russian companies and 12 Russian nationals who operated a troll farm to influence Americans through social media, and another 12 Russian GRU military intelligence officers for hacking and releasing more than 50,000 emails of Democrats.

For the past two years, as Mueller and his team worked with no leaks and little fanfare, the specter of Russian interference in the 2016 election and questions about whether Trump and his aides had coordinated with that effort had hung over the White House.

But the investigation remained high-profile through its steady flow of indictments, guilty pleas and public filings in court — and Trump’s nonstop railing against it.

Trump repeatedly attacked and sought to undermine the legitimacy of the investigation, calling it a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” accusing Mueller of conflicts and deriding the team of top prosecutors as “angry” partisans. But Trump in the end did not fire Mueller.

On Sunday morning, Mueller attended services with his wife Ann at St. John’s Episcopal Church across Lafayette Park from the White House.

Mueller has left some unfinished business, including the charges against Stone, who claimed during the campaign that he was in contact with WikiLeaks about its posting of thousands of hacked Democratic emails.

Mueller, as he wraps up his job as special counsel, is in the process of delegating investigations of U.S. attorneys to finish, including the case against Manafort colleague and former GOP deputy financial chairman Rick Gates.

Meanwhile, Trump and his associates face other lawsuits and investigation in New York and Washington federal courts, as well.

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