A brief summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report said the Trump campaign did not "conspire or coordinate" with Russia but also "does not exonerate" the president of obstructing justice during the subsequent investigation.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report did not find that members of President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign conspired with Russian entities seeking to influence the election.
But though Trump quickly hailed the report as a "complete and total exoneration", it also did not absolve the president on obstruction-of-justice allegations, according to a summary of Mueller’s findings released by the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Sunday.
According to the summary, Mueller's report considered two main efforts of Russian election interference: A disinformation and social media campaign spearheaded by Russia's Internet Research Agency, and the Russian government's successful hacking of Democratic Party officials and members of the Hillary Clinton campaign.
Attorney General William Barr cited Mueller's report as saying that no Trump team officials "conspired or knowingly coordinated" with the Internet Research Agency in its disinformation efforts surrounding the 2016 election.
Furthermore, his investigation "did not establish" that any members of the Trump campaign "conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities".
Obstruction of justice
Mueller has indicted 25 Russians on charges related to election interference, accused either in connection with hacking Democratic emails or a widespread social media campaign that spread disinformation online. Three Russian companies were also charged.
On the separate issue of whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice during the subsequent investigation, Barr quoted Mueller as saying: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
Mueller left it up to Attorney General Barr, who was appointed by Trump to head the DOJ in December, to decide whether a crime was committed.
“The Special Counsel’s decision to describe the facts of his obstruction investigation without reaching any legal conclusions leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime,” Barr's summary states.
Barr then says the Department of Justice has already determined that Trump did not obstruct justice.
“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."
Trump critics have accused him of obstructing the Russia probe when he fired former FBI director James Comey in May 2017 and later admitted he did so with the "Russia thing" in mind, thus sparking calls for the appointment of a special prosecutor.
"It's a shame that our country had to go through this," Trump told reporters Sunday before boarding Air Force One to return to Washington from Florida. "This was an illegal takedown that failed. And hopefully, somebody's going to be looking at the other side."
On Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said the president would have no problem with the report’s release. “I don’t think the president has any problem with it,” she said on NBC’s Today show. “He’s more than happy for any of this stuff to come out because he knows exactly what did and what didn’t happen, and now frankly the rest of America knows.”
But the release of the Barr summary is likely to ignite a new political fight in Washington as Democrats push for him to release the full report while Trump seizes on the findings as vindication of his assertions that he was the victim of a “witch hunt” that has cast a long shadow over his presidency.
Top congressional Democrats said Sunday it was "urgent" that the full report be publicly released, stressing it does not exonerate Trump.
"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," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
They also said Barr, nominated just months ago by Trump, is "not a neutral observer" in the process and that his summary of the report is not an objective determination about Mueller's findings.
New York Representative Jerrold Nadler, who chairs the House Judiciary committee, said Sunday that it would be "equivalent to a cover up" if the DOJ refuses to release the full report as well as any underlying documentation.
He also said his committee would be calling on Barr to testify in person.
"In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future," he tweeted.
Trump has always denied collaborating with Moscow or obstructing justice. Russia says it did not interfere in the election, although US intelligence agencies concluded that it did so in an effort to help Trump win.
The Department of Justice announced on Friday that Mueller had ended his investigation after bringing charges against 34 people, including former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
Five Trump aides have pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mueller. A sixth, longtime confidant Roger Stone, is awaiting trial on charges that he lied to Congress about the emails hacked by Russia and released by WikiLeaks as well as engaged in witness-tampering.
Nor does the conclusion of the Mueller investigation remove all the legal perils for the president. Trump faces a separate Justice Department investigation in New York into hush money payments made during the 2016 campaign to two women who say they slept with him years before. He has been implicated in a potential campaign finance violation by his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty and said Trump asked him to arrange the transactions. Federal prosecutors in New York have also been investigating foreign contributions made to the president's inaugural committee.
Federal and state prosecutors are pursuing "about a dozen" other investigations that have been prompted in part by the Mueller probe, the New York Times reported. The number of additional investigations that have been launched based on Mueller's work is unknown, however, since many remain secret.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AP)