President Donald Trump, backed by his attorney general, declared himself fully vindicated Thursday (18 April) in the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with his campaign – before the long-awaited full probe report was made public.
“Game Over,” Trump tweeted, using a “Game of Thrones” style montage that pictured him standing in dramatic fog.
Just about an hour later, the Justice Department released the full – though redacted – report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which nevertheless raised questions about Trump’s actions, saying investigators were “unable” to clear him of obstruction.
Weeks ago, Attorney General Bill Barr said in a summary of the report that there was no collusion between Trump and Russians seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
In a nationally broadcast news conference held right before the report’s release, Barr repeatedly drove that point home.
“We now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Barr told reporters.
“The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans,” Barr said.
“That is the bottom line.”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2019
Mueller did not make a conclusion on whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either.
Barr subsequently concluded that Trump had not broken the law, but told a news conference that Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offense.”
In June 2017, Trump directed White House counsel Don McGahn to tell the then-acting attorney general that Mueller had conflicts of interest and must be removed, the report said.
It also said there was “substantial evidence” that Trump fired James Comey as FBI director in 2017 due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.”
Mueller cited “some evidence” suggesting Trump knew about former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s controversial calls with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office, but evidence was “inconclusive” and could not be used to establish intent to obstruct.
The report said Trump directed former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to ask former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to say the Russia investigation was “very unfair.”
Barr emphatically sought to clear Trump of allegations that his actions – including his public attacks on Mueller and firing of then FBI chief James Comey – were not legally actionable.
At his news conference, Barr said he was standing by his own ruling, noting that Trump had no intention to obstruct and had merely been “frustrated and angered.”
“The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims,” he said.
“And at the same time, the president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
But the report said:
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
The report’s publication marks a new peak in a political storm raging over Washington throughout the first half of Trump’s first term in office.
While leftist opponents long hoped that Mueller would either charge Trump with crimes or provide evidence for impeachment, the outcome so far has favored the divisive, right-wing Republican president.
But given the volcanic political temperature in Washington and the left-right chasm through the rest of the country ahead of Trump’s 2020 re-election bid, the debate over what really happened is likely to rage on.
Trump himself is supremely confident that his opponents have failed in what he claims was high-level “treason” to destroy his presidency.
“The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats,” the president said before Barr took the podium, reprising many of his favorite slogans about his opponents.
Claiming that Barr has been working to hamper and whitewash the Russia report, Democrats will push for still more details and testimony in the near future – including from Mueller himself.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler tweeted.
Nadler set a deadline of May 23 for Mueller to come to Capitol Hill.