Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress on Sunday of the “principal conclusions” of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s two-year investigation that found no evidence that President Trump or any of his aides conspire or coordinate with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election.
“The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. Presidential election,” Barr said in a letter to Congress delivered Sunday describing the conclusions of Mueller’s investigation.
The four-page letter sent to Capitol lawmakers wrote in consultation with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein summarized the finding of the special counsel confidential report that was submitted to the attorney general on Friday. It concluded an investigation that has clouded President Trump presidency for nearly two years. The investigation came to a close without any recommendation of further indictments.
Mueller was appointed special counsel in May 2017 by the Justice Department to investigate Russia’s election interference and any links or coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. The special counsel also explored possible obstruction of justice by the president.
During the 22-month investigation that cost over $25 million, the special counsel’s office interviewed about 500 witnesses and obtained more than 3,500 subpoenas and search warrants of various types and 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence. Ultimately, six former Trump aides were indicted or convicted of crimes, most for conspiracy or lying to investigators, while 26 Russian intelligence operatives and experts in social media manipulation were charged in 2018 in two extraordinarily detailed indictments released by the special counsel.
High-profile convicts included Michael Cohen, Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and fixer, and Trump’s former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump’s onetime campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was convicted in one case and pleaded guilty in another. Longtime political adviser Roger Stone is set to face trial in November for allegedly lying to Congress about his interactions with the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, which prosecutors said served as a conduit for Russia to distribute stolen emails.
None of the charges, however, alleged a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Moscow to interfere in the election.
The Special Counsel didn’t not recommend new indictments, a senior Justice Department official said Friday, ending speculation that he might charge some of Trump’s aides in the future.
Mueller’s team specifically looked into two efforts by Russia to interfere with the 2016 election, the work by a Russian organization, the Internet Research Agency (IRA), to “conduct disinformation and social media operations” designed to sow discord” in the United States and the Russian government’s efforts to conduct computer hacking operations “designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election.”
According to Barr’s letter, the Special Counsel did not find that any “U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or coordinated” with the Russians or the IRA in these efforts, “despite multiple offers” of assistance.
“The Special Counsel recognized that ‘the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference,” Barr’s letter says. “The absence of such evidence bears upon the President’s intent with respect to obstruction… the reporter identifies no actions that, in our judgement, constitute obstructive conduct.”
Mueller’s report did not reach a conclusion on whether the Trump campaign obstructed justice, and left that decision to Barr and officials at the DOJ. Both Barr and Rosenstein determined that there was insufficient evidence of obstruction that Trump and his campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election.
“The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction,” the letter reads. “Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'”
The attorney general wrote that the Justice Department’s longstanding opinion that a sitting president can’t be indicted had no bearing on his legal conclusion that Trump’s actions didn’t rise to the level of a crime. Barr noted that the department’s bar for bringing criminal obstruction-of-justice charges requires “corrupt intent” to obstruct a proceeding.
“After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues… Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr’s letter concluded. “Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.”
Trump declared the findings a “total exoneration” in a brief tweet Sunday evening, shortly after it was released by Congress and the Justice Department.
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
Later, Trump told reporters before heading back to Washington, “It was just announced there was no collusion with Russia, the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. There was no collusion with Russia, there was no obstruction.”
He added, “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this, to be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this — since before I even got elected, it began. And it began illegally. Hopefully someone is going to look at the other side. This was an illegal takedown that failed.”
Trump has long derided the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and repeatedly denied that his campaign colluded with Moscow to interfere in the election. The White House and top congressional Republicans saw the report finding as a complete victory for Trump, and called for Democrats to stop their investigations.
“The Special Counsel did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement. “Attorney General Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction. The findings of the Department of Justice are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”
Senate Judiciary Committee chair Lindsey Graham said the report has removed “the cloud hanging over President Trump.”
“Good day for the rule of law. Great day for President Trump and his team. No collusion and no obstruction. The cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed by this report,” Graham said in a statement. “Bad day for those hoping the Mueller investigation would take President Trump down.”
Meanwhile, Democrats have called for the entire report to be made public and raised demands for Barr to answer questions about Mueller’s lack of conclusions about obstruction of justice. They are threatening to subpoena and take the Trump administration to court if they’re not satisfied with what the Justice Department provides.
“It’s the end of the beginning, but it’s not the beginning of the end,” Delaware Sen. Chris Coons said, echoing his party’s strategy of moving forward on to other investigations, including probes into Trump’s financial dealings. “Once we get the principal conclusions of the report,” he added later, “I think it’s entirely possible that that will be a good day for the president and his core supporters.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler on Twitter demanded “full transparency” surrounding what Mueller uncovered “to not exonerate” Trump from wrongdoing.
There must be full transparency in what Special Counsel Mueller uncovered to not exonerate the President from wrongdoing. DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work.— (((Rep. Nadler))) (@RepJerryNadler) March 24, 2019
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr’s letter “raises as many questions as it answers.”
“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” the statement reads. “The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay. Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report. And most obviously, for the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility.”
Nadler and other House chairmen can use their subpoena power to force the Justice Department to provide Mueller’s confidential report to Congress or bring Mueller in to testify if they are not satisfied with the information that Barr provides to them.
Earlier this month, the House voted 420-0 to pass a resolution calling for the release of Mueller’s final report to the public, with four Republicans voting “present.” The Democratic effort to pass the measure in the Senate was blocked by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham.
The president could assert executive privilege in order to stop the Justice Department from releasing evidence in the investigation, though Trump said he’s fine with the report being released.
Barr is expected to more fully brief the House and Senate Judiciary Committees on Mueller’s report in the near future. Barr said he would consult with Mueller and Rosenstein on what other information from Mueller’s final documentation can be released to Congress and the public. He also stated that he has directed Mueller to help in identifying all information that should be left out of a public report.
“My goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies,” Barr wrote. “As soon as that process is complete, I will be in a position to move forward expeditiously in determining what can be released in light of applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.”