U.S. Attorney General William Barr said on Thursday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation did not find that Donald Trump or members of his campaign worked with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, but the report appeared to paint a picture of a president taking steps to control the investigation and not fully co-operating with the probe.
The “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or co-ordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Barr told a news conference.
Referring to the Russian entity the Internet Research Agency, which engaged in cyberattacks and hacking, Barr, using Trump’s preferred term of “collusion,” said, “The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans in IRA’s activities.”
Trump’s legal team released a statement in which it characterized the report as a “total victory for the president.”
“It is clear there was no criminal wrongdoing. Nothing withheld; nothing concealed; nothing deleted; nothing destroyed; and nothing bleached,” his lawyers Rudy Giuliani, Jay Sekulow, Jane Raskin and Martin Raskin said in a statement.
Trump never interviewed by Mueller
The president never sat for an interview with Mueller during the nearly two-year investigation, despite indicating on several occasions his willingness to do so. Even so, Barr asserted that the “White House fully co-operated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely.”
But Mueller’s report said Trump’s written responses to submitted questions by the special counsel were “inadequate,” but it was ultimately decided not to issue a subpoena to force Trump to give an interview to the special counsel because it would have created a “substantial delay” at a late stage in the investigation.
The Mueller report indicated that in June 2017 Trump directed White House lawyer Don McGahn to tell acting attorney general Rod Rosenstein that Mueller had conflicts of interest and must be removed from his role. McGahn refused to carry out the order to fire Mueller, “for fear of being seen as triggering another Saturday Night Massacre,” referring to a term used during Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
On the question of whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr said that Mueller “made it clear several times” in a meeting that he did not base his report on previous Justice Department memos written in 1973 and 2000 that provided guidance whether a sitting president cannot be indicted.
Mueller submitted the report to Barr on March 22. Two days later, Barr told lawmakers in a four-page summary that the inquiry did not establish that Trump’s 2016 campaign team engaged in a criminal conspiracy with Russia and that Mueller had not exonerated Trump of committing the crime of obstruction of justice.
Barr subsequently concluded that Trump had not committed obstruction of justice.
Barr said Thursday that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law.”
Barr, confirmed as attorney general in February, said the president’s personal counsel “requested and were given the opportunity” to read the redacted report, and that Trump did not invoke executive privilege over any portions of the report.
Democrats have vowed to fight in court for the disclosure of the additional information from the report and say they have subpoenas ready to go if it is heavily redacted. They are also interested in seeing Mueller testify on Capitol Hill.
Mueller, a former FBI director, never spoke publicly during the course of the investigation.
Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called Barr’s remarks on Thursday a “campaign press conference,” with other Democratic members of Congress like California Rep. Ted Lieu weighing in with similar criticism.
Jay Inslee, a 2020 presidential candidate, went a step further, calling the press conference “a disgrace.”
“The attorney general should be the nation’s top law enforcement officer — not a spokesman for the president,” said Inslee, the Democratic governor of Washington state.
Dear <a href=”https://twitter.com/TheJusticeDept?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@TheJusticeDept</a> AG Barr: Whenever you leave, you may want to consider a career at a PR firm, since that job does not require impartiality or taking an oath to the Constitution.<br><br>But as AG, you need to act in the public’s interest instead of being a Trump stooge. <a href=”https://t.co/vRez8eSxF6″>https://t.co/vRez8eSxF6</a>
Ohio congressman Jim Jordan, one of the most ardent Republican proponents of investigating elements of the FBI and Justice Department for supposed anti-Trump bias, trumpeted the Barr conclusions.
No collusion! No obstruction! <br><br>Complete cooperation from the President. No executive privilege asserted.
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 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 co-operate in Mueller’s investigation, including Trump’s former campaign chairman, former national security adviser and former personal lawyer.
Evidence supports the inference that Trump intended for Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, to believe that he could get a pardon, according to Mueller’s report.
Manafort in January also told his deputy, Rick Gates, who pleaded guilty in a case related to the Mueller investigation, that Trump’s personal counsel had told him they were “going to take care of us,” according to Mueller’s report.
Comey firing questioned
Trump went on a social media offensive early Thursday, before Barr spoke, again denying that he colluded with Russia.
Barr said Thursday the president was “frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fuelled by illegal leaks.”
After Barr spoke, Trump’s account posted a prepared graphic that blared “GAME OVER” with a similar conclusion, which blamed “radical left Democrats.”
Barr was accompanied at the news conference by Rosenstein, who oversaw the investigation after Mueller’s appointment in May 2017 just a few weeks after he joined the Justice Department. The decision came shortly after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey less than halfway into this 10-year term.
Trump, supported by a letter written by Rosenstein, claimed the firing was a result of the FBI’s handling of an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of private servers while secretary of state, but days later Trump admitted “this Russia thing” was a primary driver of the decision. Comey testified Trump pressured him to drop an investigation of Michael Flynn, the national security adviser who lasted just three weeks early in Trump’s presidency before resigning.
Mueller said there was “substantial evidence” that Trump fired Comey due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.”
Trump regularly assailed Barr’s predecessor, Jeff Sessions, for paving the way for Rosenstein’s appointment of a special counsel. Sessions recused himself from any investigative matters concerning Russia due to contacts he hadn’t originally disclosed with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. in late 2016.
Barr did leave room for an interpretation Democrats could pounce on, saying there was no evidence “any U.S persons knowingly or intentionally co-ordinated” with Russia. Critics of the Trump campaign have said advisers such as Carter Page and George Papadopoulos could have been unwitting agents for Russian efforts.
This story originally appeared on CBC