Scarborough: Release of Mueller summary best day of Trump presidency | TheHill – The Hill

Scarborough: Release of Mueller summary \best day\ of Trump presidency | TheHill - The Hill
Mueller report finds no collusion with Russia but does not exonerate Trump
It was a good day for the U.S. president. It wasn't, legal scholars say, a "complete and total" exoneration, as Donald Trump claimed in a tweet on Sunday. 

A summary released on Sunday to Congress of the main findings of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report found that Mueller's office had insufficient evidence to establish that Trump's campaign conspired with the Russians to beat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election.

The Justice Department and the Special Counsel's Office did not charge the president or his family members with any criminal wrongdoing. Crucially, they did not charge anyone with collusion related to the election.

In his four-page summary of Mueller's confidential report, U.S. Attorney General William Barr wrote that Mueller "sets out evidence on both sides of the question" of obstruction of justice.

There was no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 U.S. presidential election, according to the U.S. attorney general’s summary of special counsel Robert Muellers investigation — though Mueller stopped short of exonerating the president on obstruction allegations.

"The Special Counsel states that 'while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,'" Barr wrote.

“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. The American people have a right to know, the statement read.

"By those words themselves, this is not an exoneration," said Harry Sandick, a former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

“It is unacceptable that, after special counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the president in under 48 hours,” Nadler said in a joint statement with Adam Schiff and Elijah Cummings.

Russia joins Trump in post-Mueller report victory lap

Mueller did not reach a conclusion on the matter. Sandick was among several former federal prosecutors surprised that Mueller opted not to make a formal recommendation on prosecution.

After reading the Attorney Generals four-page summary of the Special Counsels findings, Chairmen Nadler, Schiff and I reiterate our call for the release of the Special Counsels full and complete report and all underlying documents.

That decision has invited intense curiosity about what Mueller found that was possibly verging on illegality.

Twenty-five Russians were indicted on charges related to election interference, accused of either hacking Democratic email accounts during the campaign or orchestrating a social media campaign that spread disinformation on the internet.

"For me or anyone to have an informed opinion on the substance of whether that opinion by Barr … is right, you need to know more about the evidence," Sandick said. 

"If the evidence shows that the president probably committed obstruction of justice … it would be appropriate for Congress to have that evidence."

Besides the obstruction question, congressional committees are pursuing several other investigations into Mr. Trump, with a particular focus on his business dealings and taxes. Mr. Mueller also handed off non-Russia-related information to other prosecutors, including on financial transactions involving the committee that planned Mr. Trumps inauguration festivities, meaning legal troubles for the President and his associates may not be over yet.

Michael Zeldin, a former assistant to Mueller at the Justice Department, said the special counsel was communicating it was a "close call" on whether to prosecute for obstruction.

"I think it relates to the question of whether or not you can obstruct justice if you're the president when you do something which you have the constitutional right to do," Zeldin said. 

Trump's backers have argued, for instance, that the president has the executive authority to fire anyone, including his former FBI director James Comey, who was leading the original investigation into whether Trump campaign members colluded with Russians to influence the 2016 election.

In his letter, Mr. Barr suggested that he felt Mr. Trump could not be charged with obstruction of justice because there was no underlying crime, such as collusion with Russia, that he was trying to cover up. The U.S. Department of Justice maintains that a sitting president cannot be indicted, but Mr. Barr said this was not the reason he opted not to charge Mr. Trump.

"So Mueller punted it over to main DOJ," Zeldin said. "And two appointees of the president determined that in their estimation, a reasonable prosecutor would not bring an obstruction of justice charge on the facts they have." 

Democratic leaders swiftly accused Mr. Barr of bias in favour of the President. In a previous memo, he argued that Mr. Trump could not be charged with obstruction of justice for firing former FBI director James Comey over the Russia investigation because the President has the right to fire the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Barr, a Trump appointee, said in his letter to Congress that he reached the conclusion with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Trump nominee. In his summary, Barr said the lack of conclusiveness from Mueller "leaves it to the attorney general" to weigh in.

The first revelations from Mr. Muellers nearly two-year investigation finally answer a key question of the 2016 campaign: Whether Mr. Trump and his inner circle were in on a Kremlin plot to help Mr. Trump win. They also remove immediate legal jeopardy for the President, and undercut the chance of impeachment.

In fact, Barr had no such obligation to make the final call to exonerate Trump, legal experts said. Instead, his decision has kicked up even more dust and aroused suspicions from Democrats about precisely what Mueller found to possibly suggest Trump obstructed justice.

"There were so many fake scoops: the one about the non-existent back channel between Washington and Moscow, the one about the so-called Russia Dossier with the Kremlins alleged compromising information on Trump," Channel Ones U.S. correspondent said. "But will the viewers hear the rebuttals now?"

Former federal prosecutor Mark Osler was left scratching his head. He and other legal experts had expected the report to come with a recommendation.

"No way is Congress going to be satisfied with this," Osler said. "Democrats in the House will use their subpoena power and whatever else they can employ to try to make the entire report public."

Former federal prosecutor Barbara McQuade also found it odd that Mueller would defer to Barr on the obstruction question, "and odder yet that Barr himself decided the issue."

"The results of Muellers investigation are a disgrace for the U.S. and its political elites," Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at the Federation Council, tweeted on Monday. "All of the accusations were proved to be trumped up."

"The whole purpose of appointing a special counsel is to insulate the decision-maker from the conflicts of interest inherent to anyone in the executive branch chain of command," she said. "I think that Congress will demand to understand how this process decision was reached and whether Mueller agreed with it."

MOSCOW — Russia is reacting with an "I told you so" on Monday in state media after the conclusion of Special Counsel Robert Muellers investigation into Moscows involvement in the U.S. presidential election didnt find evidence of collusion.

Punting the obstruction matter to Barr would seem to be a curious choice, given that Barr had already weighed in on the obstruction aspect of Mueller's work. Last May, he wrote a memo to the Justice Department criticizing the investigation's focus on obstruction of justice as "fatally misconceived."

For now, Mueller has said Trump didn't commit a crime. But the facts don't fully exonerate him either, opening the door for Congress to investigate the president's conduct.

State-owned Channel One on its morning news show suggested that U.S. media had been consciously whipping up the hysteria about possible collusion in order to sway the public opinion against Russia.

Quoting directly from Mueller's secret report, Barr wrote: "[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."

Barrs letter said Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to influence the 2016 election, but was less clear on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice while in office with his 2017 firing of FBI Director James Comey.

Still, a probe that "did not establish" enough evidence to meet the Department of Justice's high burden isn't quite the same as Mueller's team saying they don't believe collusion occurred.

Barr continued that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the Mueller probe for most of its duration, concluded that the special counsels findings were “not sufficient” to determine that Trump committed obstruction of justice.

Rather, it might merely suggest the special counsel fell short of establishing proof of criminal activity that's beyond a reasonable doubt.

Attorney General William Barr released a 4-page summary on Sunday of special counsel Robert Muellers findings regarding election interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice committed by President Donald Trump.

Congress, which is launching its own investigation, has no such burden when it comes to inquiries into abuse of power and abuse of office.

The letter said that while Mueller did not “draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constitutes obstruction,” Muellers report “also does not exonerate” Trump of any criminal conduct.

And, judging by Democratic House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi's tweet that Barr's summary "raises as many questions as it answers," demands for the release of the full report, as well as possible subpoenas for Mueller to testify, are just beginning. 

While the president will celebrate this week about being vindicated, former U.S. Deputy Assistant Attorney General Harry Litman said the obstruction point is still a big question mark.

The lack of clarity over the obstruction part of Muellers probe caused Democratic congressional leaders to call for the full report to be made public, and for Barr to testify on Capitol Hill.

"I'm confounded by Mueller's decision not to engage in a traditional prosecutorial judgment," Litman said. "What were the reasons there, and what evidence specifically went into the conclusions? That's critical to understand, and we don't have those answers yet."

Read more:Pelosi and Schumer charge that Attorney General William Barr is not in a position to make objective determinations about the Mueller report

Was the Mueller report a 'total exoneration' for Trump? U.S. politics panel weighs in on The National.

Matt Kwong is a Washington-based correspondent for CBC News. He previously reported for CBC News as an online journalist in New York and Toronto. You can follow him on Twitter at: @matt_kwong

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