(Bloomberg) — Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence that anyone close to Donald Trump colluded with Russia after a 22-month investigation, and Attorney General William Barr said there wasn’t enough evidence that the president obstructed justice either.
The president said a four-page summary of Mueller’s report that Barr issued Sunday cleared him of the two major allegations that have hung over his presidency. Democrats in Congress asserted their right to determine Trump’s guilt or innocence on those and other 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 Mueller’s probe was “an illegal takedown that failed.”
The finding on collusion in Russia’s interference in the 2016 campaign was unambiguous.
“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,” Barr said in the summary he sent to Congress.
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But the determination on whether Trump sought to obstruct justice was less clear-cut.
Mueller’s still-secret “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, who was appointed by Trump after he fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions, 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.”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.”
“The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement, inaccurately describing Mueller’s finding on obstruction. “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 investigation that Trump routinely dismissed as a “witch hunt.”
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.
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 the 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 indicated he’ll likely stop well short of releasing the full report, citing the department’s policies against publicly criticizing someone who isn’t indicted and against indicting a sitting president.R
In a 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.”
Democratic lawmakers already have demanded the full report as well as Mueller’s underlying evidence so they can pursue their own investigations.
“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,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said Sunday in a joint statement. “The American people have a right to know.”
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.”
Before Barr’s letter on Sunday, Trump spent much of his time over the weekend on one of his Florida golf courses with partners including Graham and the musician Kid Rock.
The Democratic candidates who seek to replace him in 2020 joined in demanding the full release of the report.
Some Trump allies said the outcome amounted to vindication much like their victory on election night in 2016, with Trump once again overcoming what they regard as an attempt by Democrats to stop him. Barr’s letter also alleviated 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. attorneys’ 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 Trump’s 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.
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 has the right to candid and private 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, a former FBI director, was appointed in May 2017 to conduct one of the most consequential investigations in U.S. 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 figures provided by the Justice Department in December.