Monday A Day of Dealing With Fallout From Mueller Report
In the end, it had kind of the feel of a long-running series concluding with a less-than-satisfying finale or a a novel that fell flat with a chapter to go.
No matter what side one was on as Robert Mueller conducted his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election, and possible Trump campaign collusion in those efforts, there was an expectation the filing of the special counsel’s final report would be accompanied by some kind of a flourish.
Americans are conditioned to love a blockbuster with an entertaining finish.
Instead they witnessed the orderly hand-off of a confidential report, followed by the public release of four-page summation that stated some things that were obvious and left enough gray to fuel scores of future Congressional hearings and ongoing law enforcement investigations.
In short, one legal inquiry has ended. The political fireworks are only just beginning.
Mueller’s investigation began in May 2017, after President Donald Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey over a series of differences that began the night the president asked the director if he could “let … go” of an investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn over whether he accepted money from foreign governments without the required approval.
In the 22 months that followed, Mueller employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of about 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants and other staff.
By the time it wrapped up on Friday, the sweeping investigation involved the issuance of more than 2,800 subpoenas; executing more than 500 search warrants; obtaining more than 230 orders for records of private communications; making requests of 13 foreign governments for evidence and interviewing about 500 witnesses, according to the Justice Department.
Mueller concluded there were at least two Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election, but that President Trump and his campaign did not conspire or coordinate those activities, according to a letter Attorney General William Barr sent to Congress on Sunday that summarized the findings in Mueller’s report.
But at the same time, Barr’s letter noted, Mueller didn’t draw a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice or otherwise tried to influence the outcome of the probe.
“Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction,” Barr wrote.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Barr added later.
The Matter Now In Congress’ Court
“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement on Sunday. “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 also said it is impossible to take stock in Barr’s summary because “he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”
“Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the Committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise,” Pelosi and Schumer said. “The American people have a right to know.”
Upon receiving Barr’s summary of the Mueller report, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., wrote on Twitter that it “Seems like the Department of Justice is putting matters squarely in Congress’ court.”
He then tweeted that ” 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,” the House Judiciary Committee will call on Barr to defend his conclusion the president did not obstruct justice.
Nadler hopes to negotiate for the Mueller report’s release, but said in a series of television interviews Sunday morning that he would be willing to issue subpoenas to obtain the full report, and take the issue to the Supreme Court, if necessary.
Nadler also raised the possibility of asking Mueller to testify if his report isn’t made public or the Judiciary Committee finds Barr’s testimony wanting.
Barr has told Congress he will release as much of the report as possible but also noted it contains secret grand jury information that, in the absence of a criminal finding, generally can’t be shared with the public.
Those rules are designed to give prosecutors broad powers to obtain sensitive information about subjects under criminal investigation, but they limit disclosure of that information to protect the privacy of those people if no charges result.
The attorney general said he has asked for Mueller’s help in deciding what other information the law and longstanding Justice Department protocol will allow him to release, but gave no time frame for how long such a review would take.
As of Monday afternoon, no date has been set for Barr to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. However, the attorney general is already expected to be on Capitol Hill in early April to testify about the Justice Department’s budget request.
That means the first congressional committee likely to weigh in on the Mueller report and Barr’s summary of it will be the House Intelligence Committee, which is scheduled to meet Wednesday and was already slated to discuss the Trump campaign’s contact with Russia.
The committee will publicly interview on Wednesday Trump associate Felix Sater about his efforts to strike a deal for a Trump Tower Moscow during the 2016 campaign.
On Thursday, the committee will hold a second Russia-focused hearing titled “Putin’s Playbook: The Kremlin’s Use of Oligarchs, Money and Intelligence in 2016 and Beyond.”
During that hearing the committee will talk to former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and former CIA Chief of Russian Operations Steven Hall, among others.
But even before the hearings, Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., has told ABC News he believes there is “significant evidence of collusion,” specifically pointing to the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Trump committee aides and Russian officials, and well-documented conversations between Michael Flynn and the Russian ambassador.
“There’s a difference between compelling evidence of collusion and whether the special counsel concludes that he can prove beyond a reasonable doubt the criminal charge of conspiracy,” Mr. Schiff said.
House Democrats have also sent letters to several federal agencies asking them to preserve all documents, communication and evidence collected by Mueller and the special counsel’s office.
Overwhelming Bipartisan Support for Releasing Report
Senior Republicans have said the Democrats should drop their investigations of the Trump administration and the 2016 election, including Representative Doug Collins, R-Ga., ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, who said “The special counsel’s investigation was long, thorough & conclusive: There was no collusion. There is no constitutional crisis.”
Yet there is overwhelming bipartisan support for releasing the Mueller documents. Earlier this month, the House approved, 420-0, a resolution calling for just that, with only four Republicans dissenting by voting “present.”
At the same time, an overwhelming majority of Americans believe the Mueller report should be made public. A CNN poll released last month found that support for a public release stands at 80 percent among Republicans and those who approve of the way the President is handling his job, and at 92 percent among Democrats and those who disapprove of the way Trump is handling his job.
However, an effort to pass a measure in the Senate similar to the one passed in the House was killed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a Trump ally.
“No collusion and no obstruction. The cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed by this report,” Graham said in a written statement this weekend. “Now it is time to move on, govern the country, and get ready to combat Russia and other foreign actors ahead of 2020.”
How soon the country could do that, even if the House dropped all of its probes tomorrow, is anybody’s guess.
While Mueller’s probe is over, Trump inaugural committee is still under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York, and Roger Stone, Trump’s informal political adviser, is scheduled to face trial in November on charges he sought stolen emails from WikiLeaks in coordination with senior Trump campaign officials that could damage Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
As for Mueller, he’s expected to leave his post in a matter of days, although no specific date has been set.
The special counsel’s office is currently handing off its active cases, turning the Stone case over to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington. The same office is expected to handle the sentencing of former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates, which had been repeatedly delayed while he cooperated with Mueller’s investigators.
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