Special counsel Robert Mueller found that neither President Donald Trump nor his campaign colluded with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, according to a summary provided Sunday by Attorney General William Barr.
And while Mueller’s report left open the key question of whether the president or his associates obstructed justice, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded the evidence was not sufficient to prove that allegation.
Still, Mueller’s report appeared inconclusive on some issues, and Democrats seized on one key line in Barr’s four-page letter: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a joint statement that the letter “raises as many questions as it answers. 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 any further delay.”
They added that Barr “is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report” because he long was skeptical of the special counsel’s work. In 2018, before he was attorney general, Barr wrote an unsolicited memo to the White House asserting that the investigation had been “fatally misconceived.”
Republicans — and Trump himself — viewed Barr’s letter as vindication of the president, who has insisted all along that his campaign did not coordinate with Russia.
“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Trump tweeted late Sunday afternoon.
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
Speaking to reporters in West Palm Beach, Florida, as he boarded Air Force One to return to Washington, Trump added, “There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration. It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this for — before I even got elected, it began.”
Barr informed lawmakers that Mueller “did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” The summary noted this was “despite multiple offers from Russia-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”
Democrats quickly noted, however, that the report did not totally clear Trump.
“The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” tweeted Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Nadler said he would call on Barr to testify before his committee. “In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future,” he wrote.
The report, according to Barr’s summary, established that Russia engaged in two efforts to interfere in the election: a campaign of disinformation and social media manipulation, and a campaign of hacking that targeted Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and Democratic Party institutions, with the help of Wikileaks. Mueller did not find that Trump or his campaign participated in those interference efforts.
The disinformation campaign, led by the Russian organization Internet Research Agency (IRA), used troll farms to create misleading social media content to “sow social discord.” Its goal was to manipulate existing divisions in American society. For those crimes, a grand jury issued an indictment against dozens of IRA associates.
The hacking operation targeted the Democratic National Committee and Democratic leadership. As a candidate, Trump held a press conference urging Russia to hack Democrats. “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” he said, referring to a slew of emails Clinton deleted from a private email server in March 2015. The same day Trump made the request, Russian hackers began targeting Clinton’s servers.
Roger Stone, at the time a campaign adviser to Trump, had exchanged messages with Russian intelligence operatives behind the hacks, according to a court filing by the special counsel. Stone has pleaded not guilty to the charges in the matter.
As president, Trump has accepted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s denials that Russia did not hack Democratic organizations, saying he believes Putin personally. The special counsel brought charges against Russian military officers for those crimes.
U.S. intelligence agencies assert that Russia interfered in the 2018 midterm elections, and intends to do so again in the 2020 presidential election.
Barr’s letter confirmed that Mueller recommended no further indictments and hasn’t obtained any sealed indictments to be released later.
The summary report of Mueller’s findings wraps up a nearly two-year investigation into Russian election meddling.
Barr’s letter said Mueller relied on 19 lawyers and about 40 investigators, including forensic accountants and intelligence analysts, and issued 2,800 subpoenas. Five hundred witnesses were interviewed.
Throughout its investigation, the special counsel’s office filed dozens of indictments against Russians, including intelligence officers and companies that conducted “information warfare” against the U.S. by peddling disinformation on social media through companies set up to produce such content.
The team also filed charges, and in some cases secured criminal convictions or guilty pleas, against six members of Trump’s inner-circle. This includes the Trump campaign’s former chair, Paul Manafort; campaign aide and longtime Manafort business partner, Rick Gates; former campaign adviser George Papadopoulos; the Trump administration’s former foreign policy adviser Michael Flynn; longtime Trump adviser Stone; and longtime fixer and attorney Michael Cohen.
The special counsel’s investigation was only one of several inquiries into allegations of corruption and criminal behavior by Trump and his associates.
In the House, Democrat-controlled committees are investigating the president on several fronts: the Intelligence Committee is investigating Russian election meddling and the president’s foreign financial entanglements, and the Judiciary Committee is investigating allegations of obstruction of justice as well as alleged misuse of presidential powers. The House Oversight, Finance, and Ways and Means committees are investigating Trump’s businesses and hush-money payments made to women during the campaign.
Other investigations are ongoing. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York is investigating the president’s inaugural committee as well as possible violations of campaign-finance laws related to the president’s hush-money payments to women who said they had affairs with them.
The New York State Department of Financial Services is investigating allegations that Trump inflated his net worth to lenders and property values to insurers and deflated his property values in an effort to dodge taxes.
This story was updated with additional developments.