Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election but reached no conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, Attorney General William Barr declared Sunday. That brought a hearty claim of vindication from Trump but set the stage for new rounds of political and legal fighting.
Trump cheered the outcome but also laid bare his resentment after two years of investigations that have shadowed his administration. “It’s a shame that our country has had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this,” he complained.
Democrats pointed out that Mueller found evidence for and against obstruction and demanded to see his full report. They insisted that even the summary by the president’s attorney general hardly put him in the clear.
Mueller’s conclusions, summarized by Barr in a four-page letter to Congress, represented a victory for Trump on a key question that has hung over his presidency from the start: Did his campaign work with Russia to defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton? That was further good news for the president on top of the Justice Department’s earlier announcement that Mueller had wrapped his investigation without new indictments. The resolution also could deflate the hopes of Democrats in Congress and on the 2020 campaign trail that incriminating findings from Mueller would hobble the president’s agenda and re-election bid.
According to Barr’s summary, Mueller set out “evidence on both sides of the question” and stated that “while this report does not conclude the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr, who was nominated by Trump in December, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller in May 2017 and oversaw much of his work, went further in Trump’s favor.
The attorney general said he and Rosenstein had determined that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove in court that Trump had committed obstruction of justice to hamper the probe. Barr has previously voiced a broad view of presidential powers, and in an unsolicited memo last June he cast doubt on whether the president could have obstructed justice through acts — like firing his FBI director — that he was legally empowered to take.
Barr said their decision was based on the evidence uncovered by Mueller and not affected by Justice Department legal opinions that say a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Mueller’s team examined a series of actions by the president in the last two years to determine if he intended obstruction. Those include his firing of Comey one week before Mueller’s appointment, his public and private haranguing of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the Russia investigation because of his work on the campaign, his request of Comey to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the White House’s first national security adviser, and his drafting of an incomplete explanation about his oldest son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.
Trump was at his Florida estate when lawmakers received the report. Barr’s chief of staff called Emmet Flood, the lead White House lawyer on the investigation, to brief him on the findings shortly before he sent it to Congress.
Barr did not speak with the president, Mueller was not consulted on the letter, and the White House does not have Mueller’s report, according to a Justice Department official.
Though Mueller did not find evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government, Barr’s summary notes “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
That’s a likely reference not only to a June 2016 Trump Tower meeting at which Donald Trump. Jr. expected to receive damaging information on Clinton from a Kremlin-connected lawyer, as well as a conversation in London months earlier at which Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos was told Russia had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of stolen emails.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, said Congress needs to hear from Barr about his decision and see “all the underlying evidence.” He said on Twitter, “DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work.”
Barr said that Mueller “thoroughly” investigated the question of whether the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia’s election interference, issuing more than 2,800 subpoenas, obtaining nearly 500 search warrants and interviewing 500 witnesses. Trump answered some questions in writing, but Mueller was not able to interview him in person.
Barr said Mueller also catalogued the president’s actions including “many” that took place in “public view,” a possible nod to Trump’s public attacks on investigators and witnesses.
In the letter, Barr said he concluded that none of Trump’s actions constituted a federal crime that prosecutors could prove in court.
Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire in New York, Deb Riechmann in Palm Beach, Florida and Mary Clare Jalonick and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.