US President Donald Trump has criticised the two-year probe into his links with Russia.
Washington, DC, United States – According to a letter by Attorney General William Barr to congressional leaders, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation had shown that there is no evidence US President Donald Trump had colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections.
“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 US presidential election,” Barr said in his letter on Sunday.
Barr further stated that he did not find there was sufficient evidence in the investigation to suggest that the president had obstructed justice.
“The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him’,” he wrote.
Following the release of Barr’s summary, Trump claimed on Twitter: “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
Mueller concluded his investigation and sent a final report to Barr on Friday.
The special counsel did not reach a conclusion about whether Trump obstructed justice during the investigation but Barr’s letter reached a finding that, without evidence of an underlying conspiracy, the legal threshold for obstruction would not be met.
“The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller’s report stated, according to Barr.
Further, Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in these efforts, despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign”.
Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “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”.
The lack of a finding of obstruction was based on the recognition that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference”, the letter said.
By manufacturing a legal conclusion that there was no obstruction, Barr’s letter appeared to give Trump what he wanted politically, even though the underlying report said the president was not exonerated.
“The most interesting thing in the letter is that Barr decided to make a decision on obstruction after 48 hours, when Mueller decided, after two years, not to do that. I find that somewhat suspicious in that, it’s not the way the department works,” Matt Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman in the Obama administration, told Al Jazeera.
“You don’t leave decisions to the attorney general. You make recommendations,” he added.
“Mueller didn’t make a recommendation. I assume it’s because their reading of the law is that he couldn’t indict a president and so there is no point in making that decision and that decision is left to Congress. It’s very odd then, that the attorney general put his finger on the scale when an independent prosecutor who investigated for two years decided not to reach a conclusion.”
Democrat House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer called for the release of Mueller’s report and cast doubt on the attorney general’s handling of the matter.
“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 further delay,” Pelosi and Schumer said in a joint statement responding to Barr’s letter.
“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,” they said.
Mueller’s investigation included 19 lawyers and a team of 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and professional staff. The team interviewed 500 witnesses, executed more than 500 search warrants, made 13 requests to foreign governments, issued 2,800 subpoenas and 50 orders authorising the use of pen registers in the investigation, according to Barr.
Over the course of a 22-month investigation, Mueller brought charges against 34 people, including Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his personal lawyer Michael Cohen.
In a signal that Trump and his associates are likely to face continuing federal investigations into the future, Barr’s letter confirmed that Mueller referred “several matters to other offices for other action”.
US prosecutors in New York are looking into fundraising for Trump’s inaugural committee, chaired by Thomas J Barrack. Investigators are also looking at fundraising by Elliott Broidy, a California security contractor who served as deputy finance chair of the Republican National Committee in 2016.
Trump could still face legal jeopardy in the hush money scheme he orchestrated with Cohen to pay a porn star and a Playboy model to keep quiet about their alleged affairs with him. Cohen, who pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation for the payoffs, said he made the payments at Trump’s direction and has produced copies of reimbursement cheques signed by Trump.
Earlier on Sunday, Representative Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, called for the report to be made public “as soon as possible so we can evaluate the body of evidence on the issue of conspiracy and look at why Bob Mueller decided not to indict now”.
“Mueller can’t indict the president,” he told CBS’s Face the Nation show.
“The fact there are no indictments now or in the future, doesn’t tell us about the quantum of evidence. We need to wait to see the report but I also think the attorney general needs to make that report publicly available.
“The special counsel spent almost two years almost investigating this. The public has a right to know, indeed a need to know, so that we don’t have to ask questions about what the evidence was on either of these core subjects of his investigation.”
Barr had pledged to provide Congress with as much transparency as possible under Department of Justice (DoJ) regulations governing the production of reports by a special counsel.
He spent the weekend reviewing Mueller’s report with officials at the DoJ.
The report itself was not provided to Congress, prompting calls by Democrat and many Republican politicians for its public release. The House voted 420-0 to approve a resolution on March 14, expressing a view the report should be made public.
With Congress in recess over the weekend, Speaker Pelosi convened 170 Democrats for an emergency conference call on Saturday to address the Democratic caucus’s posture on the forthcoming report.
“The American people deserve the truth, to know the truth. Transparency is the order of the day,” Pelosi told Democrat members of Congress, according to a leadership aide who provided a readout of the call to Al Jazeera.
“Right now, we are in a mode of wanting to know the truth, wanting the facts so that our chairpersons and members of the committees can take a look into this going forward.”
Five House committees have launched investigations of Trump since Democrats won control of the chamber in the 2018 elections.
Pelosi has tamped down on talk of impeachment as Democrats seek to avoid a political path that could prove damaging to their chances in 2020.
Trump had remained uncharacteristically quiet over the weekend, staying at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida where he played golf with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and country music entertainer Kid Rock.