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