Expected subpoena sets up likely legal battle over access to Mueller’s full findings in his Trump-Russia investigation.
US Attorney General William Barr released the highly-anticipated redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s Trump-Russia investigation report on Thursday.
The report, which is more than 440 pages long, has multiple redactions, including information that has been classified, information that relates to ongoing probes and grand jury information, which includes witness interviews and other records.
According to the report, Mueller did not make a conclusion on whether President Donald 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 offence”.
The report shows a series of incidents in which Trump took actions to impede the probe.
Mueller reported that Trump had been agitated at the special counsel probe from its earliest days, reacting to Mueller’s appointment by saying it was the “end of his presidency”.
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.
McGahn refused to carry out Trump’s order to fire Mueller “for fear of being seen as triggering another ‘Saturday night massacre'”, referring to a term used during Nixon’s Watergate scandal.
The report 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”.
As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
Mueller cited “some evidence” suggesting Trump knew about former NSA Michael Flynn’s controversial calls with the Russian ambassador before Trump took office, but the 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”.
The report said Mueller’s team did not issue a subpoena to force Trump to give an interview to the special counsel because it would have created a “substantial delay” at a late stage in the investigation.
It said Mueller accepted the long-standing Justice Department view that a sitting president cannot be indicted on criminal charges.
Trump celebrated the report, telling a gathering of wounded veterans, “It was called no collusion, no obstruction. There never was, by the way, and there never will be.”
He added, “This should never happen to another president again, this hoax.”
Barr defends Trump
Barr defended Trump in a press conference about 90 minutes before he released the report. He emphasised that Mueller found no collusion between Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
“President Trump faced an unprecedented situation. As he entered into office and sought to perform his responsibilities as president, federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinising his conduct before and after taking office and the conduct of some of his associates,” Barr said.
“At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the president’s personal culpability. Yet, as he said from the beginning, there was in fact no collusion,” added Barr, one of the handful of people to have seen the report.
Democrats, who are demanding the release of the full, unredacted report, have scolded Barr over his handling of the report, saying they were concerned that a summary of its main conclusions he released last month portrayed the investigation’s findings in an overly favourable way for Trump.
‘Crisis of confidence’
Ahead on the redacted report’s release, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Barr had “thrown out his credibility & the DOJ’s independence with his single-minded effort to protect” Trump.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said, “The process is poisoned before the report is even released.”
The top Democrats issued a joint statement calling for Mueller to appear before Congress “as soon as possible”. They said Barr’s “partisan handling” of the report has “resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality”.
Late on Wednesday, Jerrold Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, warned that if the report is heavily redacted, the committee will issue subpoenas “in short order”.
On Thursday, Nadler requested that Mueller testify to panel “no later than May 23”.
Barr said on Thursday that Trump’s personal lawyers “were given the opportunity to read a final version of the redacted report before it was publicly released”, a revelation certain to infuriate congressional Democrats.
Earlier this week, Rudy Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers said the president’s legal team were putting the finishing touches on a rebuttal to the report.