Robert Mueller has not established that collusion or conspiracy took place between the Trump campaign and Russia’s government, but the special counsel stopped short of deciding whether Donald Trump obstructed justice.
Attorney general William Barr said in a letter to Congress that Mr Mueller and his team did not find that there was a direct link between Mr Trump’s campaign and the multiple strategies the Kremlin employed to influence the 2016 presidential election. “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or co-ordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” he quoted the report as saying.
Meanwhile, the special counsel’s investigation provided “facts” surrounding potential obstruction of justice undertaken by Mr Trump, but Mr Barr and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, determined that evidence was not sufficient to charge the president with a crime.
The letter from Mr Barr was made public just days after Mr Mueller’s team finalised its report detailing its findings from nearly two years’ worth of investigation that enraptured the nation with a slow drip of details that at times appeared poised to implicate the highest levels of US government in potentially criminal activity. It also resulted in the filing of indictments against several individuals close to the president on financial crimes, perjury, and for felony campaign finance violations.
Mr Trump, during a visit to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, declared victory after the contents of the report were disclosed.
“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Mr Trump tweeted.
Mr Trump also commented on the report just before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington. He said: “So after a long look, after a long investigation, after so many people have been so badly hurt, after not looking at the other side where a lot of bad things happened, a lot of horrible things happened, a lot of very bad things happened for our country, it was just announced there was no collusion with Russia. The most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard – there was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, and none whatsoever.”
He continued: “And it was a complete and total exoneration. It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this before I even got elected, it began. And it began illegally. And hopefully somebody’s going to look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed. And hopefully, somebody’s going to be looking at the other side.”
But Mr Trump’s claims of total exoneration were undermined by the letter itself, which quoted Mr Mueller’s report using that exact word. “The special counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him’,” Mr Barr wrote.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler responded to the attorney general’s letter by noting that it did not “exonerate” Mr Trump, and said that he planned to request Mr Barr’s presence before his committee.
“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,” Mr Nadler tweeted.
And Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, said it was “urgent” that the full report and supporting documents be made public.
Even so, the findings of the special counsel’s investigation make some of the worst potential outcomes of the Russia investigation for Mr Trump seem unlikely. Among those are impeachment proceedings in the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives, where leading politicians had indicated they would await the results of the investigation.
In Mr Barr’s letter, he outlined the special counsel’s findings, which was divided into two main parts: whether Mr Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia during the 2016 election, and whether Mr Trump obstructed justice with his actions during the investigations that have followed.
The special counsel report, he wrote, detailed investigations into Mr Trump’s behaviours that may have constituted obstruction, but left the decision of whether to indict the president up to the Justice Department. Mr Barr and his colleagues, including Mr Rosenstein – who oversaw the special counsel’s office for much of the past two years – have since determined that such an indictment is not supported by the evidence in the report.
“[We] have concluded that the evidence developed during the special counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offence,” Mr Barr wrote, noting that the decision was not made because of constitutional norms that generally instruct the Justice Department not to indict a sitting president.
As for conspiracy, the report says that there were two primary ways in which Russian forces attempted to influence the 2016 election.
One of those included a disinformation campaign online and in social media “to sow social discord” with the intent of influencing the campaign, and conducted by the Russian group the Internet Research Agency.
The second Russian strategy aimed at influencing the 2016 campaign was a computer hacking campaign, which successfully stole emails from the 2016 campaign of Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee before publishing those documents on WikiLeaks. The special counsel report indicated that investigators did not find any evidence that the Trump campaign or officials knowingly coordinated with that effort “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
Before the Sunday letter was released, Mr Barr had said he wanted to make as much of the report public as possible, and it appeared clear that any efforts to withhold details would prompt a tussle between the Justice Department and politicians in Congress who could subpoena Mr Mueller and his investigators to testify. Such a move by Democrats would probably be vigorously contested by the Trump administration.
While the letter represents good news for the president, the conclusion of Mr Mueller’s investigation does not remove legal peril for the president as he faces a separate Justice Department investigation in New York into hush money payments during the campaign to two women who say they had sex with him years before.
He has also been implicated in a potential campaign finance violation by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to his role in the payments and alleged that the president asked him to arrange the transactions. Federal prosecutors, also in New York, have been investigating foreign contributions made to the president’s inaugural committee.
At least two members of Mr Trump’s inner circle have also already been implicated in crimes related to Russia, with his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort receiving a seven-year prison term earlier this month for several crimes prosecuted by Mr Mueller’s team.
Mr Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was also an early casualty of the Trump-Russia scandal, after it was determined that he had misled vice president Mike Pence about conversations he had with Russian officials during the presidential transition period.
Others, including Mr Trump’s adult son Donald Trump Jr, and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, have also been found to have had secret meetings with Russian officials during the campaign or transition period. One of those meetings was set up with the promise that dirt on Hillary Clinton would be provided to the Trump campaign. The meeting reportedly yielded no results.
The special counsel investigation was launched 22 months ago after Mr Trump fired former FBI director James Comey, a decision the president later said he made after repeatedly asking the law man to give up on the Russia investigation.
In the time since, the investigation run by 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and professional staff has issued more than 2,800 subpoenas and more than 500 search warrants. Roughly 500 witnesses were interviewed, leading to dozens of indictments and felony charges.
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