NATIONWIDE — Special counsel Robert Mueller says his team did not have sufficient evidence to charge anyone in the Trump campaign, or any American, with colluding with Russian agents to interfere with and influence the 2016 presidential election.
Mueller’s report, released Thursday, also said it could not conclude that President Donald Trump did not obstruct justice in trying to limit the scope of the investigation, or block it altogether.
- 448-page Mueller report made public
- Attorney general to testify before Congress May 2
- House calls on Robert Mueller to testify by May 23
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The 448-page report, which is redacted in parts because of ongoing investigations or to protect grand jury information, was hailed by Attorney General William Barr and Trump as an exoneration of the president and the 2016 Trump campaign.
"I'm having a good day, too. No collusion. No obstruction," he said. "There never was, by the way, and there never will be."
But Democrats say that is not the final word on the subject. The Mueller report makes clear that Congress could carry on the obstruction investigation, and the House Judiciary Committee plans to do so.
“I have formally requested that Special Counsel Mueller testify before the House Judiciary Committee as soon as possible, so we can get some answers to these critical questions, because we clearly can’t believe what Attorney Barr is saying," Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said.
Nadler said that, from what he’s seen of the report, it was written with the intent of providing Congress with a road map for dealing with the obstruction questions.
What's in the Mueller Report
The report is in two "volumes": one on the Russian interference investigation, and one on whether Trump obstructed justice.
Volume 1 makes clear from the first page that the special counsel agrees with U.S. intelligence agencies that the Russian government engaged in a wide-ranging campaign to influence and interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
That operation began years before 2016, with Russian operatives gathering intelligence on Americans and American politics, with the intent to infiltrate social media and influence the election in favor of candidates deemed more favorable to Russian interests.
As the election took shape, that operation supported then-candidate Donald Trump, and to a lesser extent Bernie Sanders, and opposed Hillary Clinton.
The Russian agents promoted advertisements on social media, working to sow political discord in what the report called "information warfare."
The agents even went so far as to organize pro-Trump rallies in several key battleground states, including New York and Florida.
“To organize those rallies, [Internet Research Agency] employees posed as U.S. grassroots entities and persons and made contact with Trump supporters and Trump campaign officials in the United States,” the report said, adding that they did not find evidence that any Americans conspired or coordinated with the Russians.
The second part of the Russian operation was the systematic hacking of elections-related computer networks.
The report confirms that Russian intelligence agents stole hundreds of thousands of documents from the Clinton campaign, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Democratic National Committee and released them under the fictitious online personas of DC Leaks and Guccifer 2.0.
Other documents were later released through WikiLeaks.
Then the report lays out the details of ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, which consisted of business connections, invitations for campaign officials to meet with Russian officials, invitations for Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet in person, and through policy positions.
To this end, Mueller says the following:
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Mueller says this section of the report abided by guidance from the Department of Justice that "the indictment or criminal prosecution of a sitting President would impermissibly undermine the capacity of the executive branch to perform its constitutionally assigned functions."
However, the report concludes that a sitting president may still be investigated for criminal conduct and does not have immunity after he leaves office.
The special counsel’s office investigated potential obstruction charges against the president because of the “strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
But Mueller makes a point of saying that while indicting the president or making that formal accusation is not within his office's purview, it is in Congress’s purview:
“With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”
In volume 2, Mueller outlines 10 “episodes” that pertained to the obstruction investigation against Trump.
- President Trump's denials of Russian Contacts, including attempts to create witness statements denying he directed his incoming National Security Director Michael Flynn to talk with the Russian Ambassador.
- President Trump's conduct involving FBI Director James Comey, in which he asked for loyalty.
- President Trump's firing of Comey.
- President Trump's attempt to fire Mueller, which ultimately didn’t happen.
- President Trump's efforts to curtail the investigation.
- President Trump's attempts to keep the June 2016 Trump Tower Meeting secret.
- The President’s continued push for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to take over the investigation, even though he had already recused himself.
- President Trump’s order to have former White House Counsel Don McGahn deny that the President wanted to fire the Special Counsel.
- President Trump’s conduct with Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, campaign chairman and a redacted name.
- President Trump's conduct with Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney and "fixer.”
“YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO PROTECT ME”
Mueller broke up this part of his report into two phases: the period leading up to the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and the investigation period itself.
In between, the report recalls an interview with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, in which he recounts what the president said when he learned that Mueller had been assigned as special counsel:
"Oh my God, this is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I'm f-----," Sessions told the investigation.
Sessions also recalled the president saying, "You were supposed to protect me."
The report showed several instances when the president tried to get associates to limit the scope of the campaign or even fire Mueller from the investigation.
In June 2017, for instance, the president directed White House counsel Don McGahn to contact Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and say that Mueller must be ousted because of conflicts of interest.
The report also asked former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to take a message to Sessions, asking him to publicly call the investigation "very unfair" and have Mueller limit the probe to investigating election meddling for future elections.
Mueller's report says those efforts were mostly unsuccessful, because these people declined to carry out orders.
The president also declined to submit to an interview with the special counsel’s office. He eventually submitted written answers, but refused to answer follow-up questions, according to Mueller.
Finding the president’s responses inadequate, Mueller writes in the report that his staff considered issuing a subpoena for the president’s testimony. But they decided against it after weighing the benefits of doing so against the cost of possibly having to endure a lengthy court battle that would go to the U.S. Supreme Court, and possibly delay the investigation.
The Mueller report makes the following conclusion regarding the obstruction question:
“The evidence we obtained about the President's actions and intent presents difficult issues that would need to be resolved if we were making a traditional prosecutorial judgment.
“At the same time, 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, we are unable to reach that judgment. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
In a news conference before the release of the report Thursday, Barr said he and Rosenstein disagreed with some of Mueller’s legal theories, and said some of the episodes did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law.
Barr also sought to frame the president’s actions as outlined in the section as occurring because he was in an “unprecedented situation” as he tried to start his administration under intense scrutiny and speculation.
“The president was frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the report was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks,” Barr said.
What happens next?
Barr will appear before the House Judiciary Committee on May 2, and Nadler says Barr will be questioned about the report.
Barr says he plans to release a “less redacted” version of the report. However, Nadler is not satisfied with that. The committee authorized Nadler to issue subpoenas for the unredacted report earlier this month, and Nadler says he will do so.
In addition, Nadler has called on Mueller himself to testify by May 23. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer also urged Mueller to testify before the House and Senate.
Spectrum News reporter Stephanie Coueignoux and the Associated Press contributed to this report.