WASHINGTON - After nearly two years of waiting, America is getting some Trump-Russia answers straight from Robert Mueller. But first: Another declaration of “no collusion” by President Donald Trump’s attorney general.
Eager to get in a last word ahead of the public release of the special counsel’s report, Attorney General William Barr on Thursday laid out in advance what he said was the “bottom line:” No cooperation between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian government hackers.
While Mueller drew no conclusion about whether Trump had obstructed justice in the investigation, Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally had concluded that while Trump was “frustrated and angered” about the Mueller probe, nothing the president did rose to the level of an “obstruction-of-justice offense.” Barr said Mueller’s report examined 10 episodes pertaining to Trump and obstruction.
The Justice Department was to release a redacted version of the special counsel’s report later Thursday morning on Russian election interference and the Trump campaign, opening up months, if not years, of fights over what the document means in a deeply divided country.
It was to be delivered to Congress on compact discs between 11 a.m. and noon and then posted on the special counsel’s website.
All Washington was in a high state of alert, Trump himself tweeting a dozen times ahead of its release. He repeated what has become a near daily refrain of criticism of the Russia investigation using his favored Twitter account. “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he wrote.
Then he sent out a photo mimicking the “Game of Thrones” logo, showing him emerging from a mist and the huge words “GAME OVER.”
Eager to judge the report for themselves, Democrats quickly took on Barr’s arguments.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that now that the president’s “campaign press conference is over” it’s time for Congress and the American people to see it.
Republican allies of the president quickly embraced Barr’s assessment. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted: “There was no collusion. It’s over.”
Barr said the president did not exert executive privilege to withhold anything in the report. And he said the president’s personal attorney had requested and gotten a chance to review the report before its public release.
Barr said that he and deputy Rod Rosenstein disagreed with some of Mueller’s “legal theories” pertaining to obstruction of justice. But he said that didn’t influence their conclusion that Trump didn’t commit a crime.
He said they set their feelings on the matter aside and accepted Mueller’s “legal framework for purposes of our analysis” but still determined that the evidence gathered by Mueller was “not sufficient to establish” that Trump had violated the law.
Barr said that no one outside the Justice Department has seen the unredacted Mueller report. And he added that no redactions were either made or proposed outside of the small group of Justice staffers that pored over Mueller’s report.
The report’s release will represent a moment of closure nearly two years in the making and at the same time the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.
Even ahead of the report’s release, Democrats cried foul about Barr’s press conference, for “spinning the report” in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
“The process is poisoned before the report is even released,” he said.
And moments after Barr finished speaking, House Judiciary Chairman Nadler sent a letter requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23.”
Barr said he had no objection to Mueller testifying.
Barr’s news conference ended abruptly after he bristled at the tone of some questions about how he handled the Mueller report.
The report was expected to reveal what Mueller uncovered about ties between the Trump campaign and Russia that fell short of criminal conduct. It was also to lay out the special counsel’s conclusions about formative episodes in Trump’s presidency, including his firing of FBI Director James Comey and his efforts to undermine the Russia investigation publicly and privately.
The report was not expected to place the president in legal jeopardy, as Barr made the decision that Trump shouldn’t be prosecuted for obstruction of justice. But it is likely to contain unflattering details about the president’s efforts to control the Russia investigation that will cloud his ability to credibly claim total exoneration. And it may paint the Trump campaign as eager to exploit Russian aid and emails stolen from Democrats and Hillary Clinton’s campaign even if no Americans crossed the line into criminal activity.
Overall, Mueller brought charges against 34 people — including six Trump aides and advisers — and revealed a sophisticated, wide-ranging Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. Twenty-five of those charged were against Russians accused either in the hacking of Democratic email accounts or of a hidden but powerful social media effort to spread disinformation online.
Five former Trump aides or advisers pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation, among them Trump’s campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer.
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