US attorney general says Mueller report finds ‘no collusion’

Peter Baker, The New York Times

Posted at Apr 18 2019 10:38 PM

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking at an Opportunity Zone conference with State, local, tribal, and community leaders South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, on the White House complex, Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Washington. AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

President Donald Trump’s lawyers were given advance access this week to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report before it was to be sent to Congress and made public, Attorney General William Barr said Thursday.

Summarizing the report before it was to be made public, Barr said Mueller “found no evidence” that any member of the Trump campaign conspired with Russia in its effort to interfere in the 2016 presidential election. He also defended his decision to clear the president on obstruction of justice, even though Mueller said he was neither charging nor exonerating Trump on the matter.

“The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans,” Barr said at a news conference.

The Justice Department planned to send a redacted version of the report to Congress at 11 a.m. on Thursday and was to post it on the department’s website, Barr said.

The report may reveal more about Russia’s election intervention and interactions with Trump’s team — even if, as Barr said, Mueller did not establish a criminal conspiracy. Trump did not even wait for the report to be released to begin responding aggressively, lashing out with a barrage of tweets denouncing the investigation.

— Barr speaks before the report is released

The attorney general said the White House made no claims of executive privilege over any information in the Mueller report and none of the redactions were made at the request of the White House, but he did give the president’s lawyers the opportunity to read the report in advance.

“Earlier this week, the president’s personal counsel requested and were given the opportunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released,” Barr said at the news conference. “The president’s personal lawyers were not permitted to make, and did not request, any redactions.”

Barr at times sounded like a defense lawyer. In addressing obstruction, Barr said the president had no corrupt intent and was understandably “frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.

Democrats, including the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, harshly criticized Barr for holding a news conference before releasing the report.

At the news conference, Barr made sure to include Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who first appointed Mueller.

— Mueller examined 10 episodes for possible obstruction

Barr said that investigators examined 10 different episodes in which the president may have obstructed justice. It has been reported that among the incidents that Mueller examined was a June 2017 effort by Trump to have his White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, fire Mueller.

— Lawmakers will study Mueller’s discussion of obstruction

The special counsel’s report was expected to describe a series of actions that Trump or his team took that could be interpreted as impeding the Russia investigation, even though Mueller did not come to a definitive conclusion about whether they add up to a crime of obstruction.

Many of the actions were taken publicly or have been reported before, including the president’s decision to fire James B. Comey, then the FBI director, who was leading the investigation into Russia’s interference and possible links to the Trump campaign. But Barr’s letter suggested that the report would cite other actions not previously disclosed.

Trump’s defenders have said a president cannot be accused of a crime for exercising the powers granted to him under the Constitution, while his critics have argued that otherwise legal actions can still be construed as obstruction if they are motivated by corrupt intent. While Mueller evidently opted not to make a decision, Barr did, telling Congress that he and Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, agreed that Trump committed no obstruction offense.

— Redactions already have provoked a fight between Barr and Democrats

Long before anyone outside of the Justice Department saw the report, Barr and congressional Democrats were skirmishing over how much should be made public.

In providing the report to Congress and the public, Barr said he would black out information that would disclose secret grand jury proceedings, compromise open investigations, reveal intelligence sources and methods or intrude on the privacy or damage the reputations of “peripheral third parties.”

But Democrats who control the House have insisted that they be given access to the full report as well as any underlying evidence, arguing that they cannot trust Barr, a Trump appointee, to independently decide what gets released and what does not. The House Judiciary Committee has already authorized a subpoena for the unredacted report and may issue it if Democratic leaders are unsatisfied.

And the top leaders called for Mueller himself to testify, saying that the “only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling” of his investigation was for the special counsel to explain his findings.

“Attorney General Barr’s regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report, including his slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress last week, and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference later this morning — hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it — have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, said in a statement released early Thursday.

— The report may illuminate Russia’s campaign to sway the election

Mueller has already established — through indictments of Russian individuals and organizations he linked to the Kremlin — that Russia sought to intervene in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf.

But even if Mueller established no illegal conspiracy by the Trump campaign, the report might offer additional information on contacts that might not rise to the level of a crime in his view. Previous court filings and public reports have already documented that Trump and at least 17 campaign officials and advisers had more than 100 contacts with Russian nationals and WikiLeaks, or their intermediaries, before his inauguration.

Mueller’s report will be examined to see if he offers any further insight into what was going on behind the scenes or any additional details on the proposed Trump Tower that Trump and his associates were secretly negotiating to build in Moscow through much of the 2016 election year.

— The public may get a look at Trump’s own account

Trump has adamantly reduced his explanation of what went on in 2016 to a two-word mantra repeated at every turn: “no collusion.” With the release of Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report, he has amended it to say, “No collusion, no obstruction.”

But Trump’s official responses to Mueller’s more specific questions have remained secret since he responded in writing in November. With his lawyers worried that he would make a false statement and expose himself to criminal charges, the president refused to be interviewed in person, and Mueller did not try to force the issue with a subpoena.

By drafting the answers in writing in consultation with his legal team, Trump may have sidestepped what his lawyers feared would be a “perjury trap.” If Mueller included them in his report in whole or in part, however, they could offer the broadest explanation by Trump of what he knew and when he knew it during the campaign and after he took office.

Trump weighed in on the report hours before its release, with a familiar refrain on Twitter: “The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats.”

A few minutes later, he added: “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”