Mueller Report Doesn’t Find Russian Collusion, But Can’t ‘Exonerate’ On Obstruction
PHOTO: Special counsel Robert Mueller walks with his wife, Ann, in Washington, D.C., on Sunday. The Justice Department is expected to send a summary of his findings to Congress. CREDIT: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
BY CARRIE JOHNSON, PHILIP EWING & JESSICA TAYLOR
Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find evidence that President Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election, according to a summary of findings submitted to Congress by Attorney General William Barr.
“The special counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russian in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” Barr wrote in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Sunday afternoon.
That was despite “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign,” he wrote.
However, Mueller’s investigation did not take a position on whether Trump obstructed justice by trying to frustrate the ongoing investigation.
“While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Barr wrote.
The attorney general wrote that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had concluded that the findings of the special cousel were “not sufficient to establish that the president committed and obstruction-of-justice offensive.”
The Justice Department leaders reached that conclusion, Barr wrote, without regard to the “constitutional considerations” that surround whether the department could seek an indictment of a sitting president.
White House Exults
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted that “The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”
Republicans also seized on the news, arguing that Trump has now been absolved.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who played golf this afternoon in Florida with the president, said in a statement, “Good day for the rule of law. Great day for President Trump and his team.”
“The cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed by this report,” Graham added. “Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said “it is abundantly clear, without a shadow of a doubt, there was no collusion … This case is closed.”
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said Barr’s letter should “assure every American there was no collusion between Russia and Donald Trump or his campaign.”
“The special counsel’s investigation was long, thorough and conclusive: There was no collusion. There is no constitutional crisis,” Collins added. “As the report states, ‘the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.'”
Collins also urged House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., to “rethink” the committee’s investigation and shift to focus on issues like immigration and criminal justice reform.
Democrats Initially Wary
Nadler, however, was more cautious and seized on the language by Barr that suggests Mueller’s report left in limbo the question of whether Trump obstructed justice.
“Mueller clearly and explicitly is not exonerating the president, and we must hear from AG Barr about his decision making and see all the underlying evidence for the American people to know all the facts,” Nadler tweeted.
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.
— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) March 24, 2019
He continued: “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 also argued that given the 22 months Mueller spent investigating Trump, the two days that Barr spent boiling down his work is not sufficient.
The Judiciary Committee chairman said he intends to call Barr to testify soon before a hearing.
Details Of The Investigation
Barr wrote that Mueller interviewed about 500 witnesses, made requests to 13 foreign governments for evidence and obtained more than 230 orders for communications records.
He also said that Mueller hasn’t recommended indictments against anyone else and there are no sealed indictments that have yet to made public.
The news about no more charges was part of the announcement on Friday when Mueller notified the leaders of the Justice Department that he had completed his work, which began in May 2017.
For much of the weekend, Washington has been early anticipating the conclusions from Barr, who spent Saturday and Sunday in his office, along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.
According to a senior Justice Department official, Barr’s chief of staff called White House lawyer Emmet Flood at 3 pm to give him a “readout” of the letter.
Mueller has not been at the Justice Department this weekend and he “was not consulted on this letter.”
The Justice Department is not giving a timeline as to releasing additional material from the Mueller investigation, and will review the report and materials for grand jury information and information that could implicate ongoing investigations.
Trump In Florida
Trump spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, along with his family and key advisers and staffers, including Flood and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone.
Lawyer Rudy Giuliani told NPR on Saturday that the White House had deliberately taken a hands-off approach with Mueller and the Justice Department and that there was no more to say until the results come in.
The president’s legal team has drafted a rebuttal to Mueller’s report, but the decision as to whether or not to release that will depend on what Mueller wrote, Giuliani said.
“If they don’t say anything harmful or critical that’s worth responding to, we won’t respond,” he said. “If they do say something then we’ll put out whatever is necessary to rebut it.”
Supporters of the president welcomed the news on Friday from the Justice Department that Mueller hasn’t recommended any more criminal indictments.
They say this shows the story is over and that, according to this line of thinking, Mueller didn’t uncover any conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and the Russians.
“If they’re not going to indict anybody else then they can’t have any further evidence of collusion,” Giuliani said. “Otherwise they would have brought some kind of conspiracy indictment.”
Trump’s former campaign boss Corey Lewandowski pointed specifically to the case of conservative commentator Jerome Corsi, who walked away from a potential guilty plea with the special counsel over alleged lies to investigators.
The government doesn’t appear to be pursuing that case, Lewandowski told NPR on Friday, which he said suggests to him that this chapter is about to close.
“I’m reading the tea leaves,” he said.
Widespread Calls For Openness
Calls have been nearly universal and bipartisan for Mueller’s original report to be released, and for the public or Congress to access its findings and its underlying source material.
Many Republicans and Democrats agree they will not be content only with a Barr-drafted synopsis of the report.
“It needs to be released to the Congress and it needs to be released to the American people,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, told CNN on Sunday morning. “This has consumed two years of the American people’s time and we need full transparency.”
Congressional Democrats appeared nearly unanimous about the need for wide release and individual Democratic leaders also tried to preempt what they feared might be attempts by the White House to conceal Mueller’s findings.
Specifically, one longstanding question has been whether Trump might seek to invoke executive privilege, the doctrine that allows an administration to keep secret some of its internal workings.
Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman, told NBC on Sunday morning that he thinks the president shouldn’t attempt it.
“I do not believe it exists here at all because, as we learned from the [Richard] Nixon tapes case, executive privilege cannot be used to hide wrongdoing,” Nadler said.
Continued Nadler: “In that case, the Supreme Court, nine to nothing, ordered that all the claims of executive privilege be overridden and the tapes be public … The president may try to assert it, may try to hide things behind it. But I don’t think that’s right or be successful.”
Trump Hasn’t Opposed Publication
Trump, for his part, has said in the past both that he doesn’t mind if Mueller’s report becomes public — because he says he has done nothing wrong — but also that there shouldn’t have been a Mueller report in the first place.
Trump has gone back and forth about what he accepts about the Russian interference in 2016 but he has been consistent that neither he nor anyone in his campaign had any connection to it.
That idea is a “hoax” perpetuated by conspirators and Democrats sore that Hillary Clinton lost to him, Trump says, who have been consequently running a “witch hunt” against him.
If a near-consensus had formed on Sunday about the need to release Mueller’s findings and his evidence — at least to Congress — what remained unclear was precisely what would happen next with Barr and the Justice Department.
Officials gave only a general indication that something might happen in the afternoon but did not commit to any particular time or describe in more detail what Barr would give to the Congress.
NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith contributed to this report.