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Mueller report finds no Trump-Russia conspiracy

By Chris Megerian and Del Quentin Wilber • Mar 24, 2019 at 6:27 PM

WASHINGTON –– Attorney General William Barr told Congress Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller did not find that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign “or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia” in 2016.

Yet Mueller did not come to a conclusion whether Trump obstructed justice after taking office as president, Barr wrote in a letter to leaders of the House and Senate judiciary committees.

Barr quoted from Mueller’s confidential report, which was submitted Friday, writing that “while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

The attorney general said that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined that Trump’s conduct did not meet the legal test for an obstruction of justice charge that could be proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

The letter shared what the attorney general considered the “principal conclusions” from the Russia investigation led by Mueller, and it’s expected to be the first step in what will likely become a prolonged tug-of-war over fully disclosing the findings and defining what they mean for the president.

The letter immediately sent shock waves throughout Washington, where Democrats and Republicans were maneuvering for political leverage even before Mueller’s conclusions were known, and its contents could change the political landscape for the 2020 presidential campaigns.

Trump celebrated the news as a victory in remarks before boarding Air Force One to fly back to Washington from Florida, where he spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

“There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction,” Trump said. “It was a complete and total exoneration. It was a shame that our country had to go through this.”

The president angrily described the investigation as “an illegal takedown that failed.”

"The events that gave rise to the appointment of the Special Counsel mark a dark chapter in American history,” said U.S. Rep Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. “The investigation began with a handful of politically-biased actors within the Justice Department who inappropriately used a campaign research document to launch a coordinated partisan attack on the president.

“Now, after 22 months and over $25 million in taxpayer funds, we know what many of us suspected all along. There was no collusion, coordination, or cooperation with Russia. All the Special Counsel's prosecutions of U.S. persons in the course of this investigation were wholly unrelated to collusion. I hope this will put an end to the partisan and political investigations in Congress aimed at undermining President Trump."

Other Republicans quickly echoed the president and Jordan in calling the summary findings a complete exoneration, despite Barr having explicitly quoted from Mueller’s report that the investigation did not exonerate Trump.

It’s unlikely that Barr’s letter will be the last word on the special counsel’s report. Legislative leaders from both parties have demanded to see the full picture of what Mueller uncovered during his nearly two-year investigation. House Democrats, using the majority power newly won in November, have said they may subpoena his report or call Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said he plans to hold a hearing “in the near future” with Barr so the attorney general can explain his conclusions.

“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,” Nadler said on Twitter.

Barr’s letter was written in consultation with Rosenstein and other key advisers, a senior Justice Department official said. Mueller was not involved.

The letter provided new details on the breadth of the hotly contested Russia investigation. Mueller’s office included 19 lawyers who were assisted by 40 FBI agents, analysts, forensic accountants and other specialists. The special counsel also issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, interviewed roughly 500 witnesses and executed nearly 500 search warrants.

Barr told the leaders of the House and Senate judiciary committees Friday that he is “committed to as much transparency as possible” and would consult with Rosenstein and Mueller “to determine what other information from the report can be released to Congress and the public consistent with the law.”

In his letter Sunday, he said that process would continue as they determine what information involving grand jury testimony or ongoing investigations should be withheld.

The two U.S. senators from Ohio shared their thoughts on Sunday’s announcement.

“A summary report is not enough,” U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said. “It’s important that the American public have the answers they deserve about the full scope of the Mueller report and its findings. The Department of Justice should turn over the full report to Congress, the Administration should preserve all of the information and underlying evidence it provided to the Special Counsel, and the report should be released to the public in full.”

“I’m pleased that Special Counsel Mueller has finally concluded his investigation,” U.S. Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said. “I’ve said from the start of this process that the Special Counsel should follow the facts wherever they lead and complete the investigation expeditiously without any political interference. That is what happened.

“Today’s summary by the Attorney General says that the Special Counsel’s report confirms that Russians meddled in the 2016 election but finds no evidence of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Finally, the summary indicates that the Special Counsel reached no conclusion on obstruction of justice. The attorney general and deputy attorney general have concluded that the Special Counsel’s investigation did not include sufficient evidence to warrant any obstruction of justice charges against the president.

"As I’ve said consistently, I believe the report should be made public, with important exceptions for grand jury or classified information, and I hope the attorney general provides as much information to the public as he possibly can, as soon as he can,” Portman continued. “I appreciate the summary received today, and hope to have the opportunity to review the report very soon.”

Mueller is not seeking any more indictments and he is expected to step down as special counsel in the coming days, after nearly two years of behind-the-scenes investigating with his team. Rosenstein appointed Mueller, a former FBI director under two presidents, after Trump fired his successor at the FBI, James Comey, in May 2017.

Since then, Mueller and his prosecutors have investigated Moscow’s covert effort to meddle in the 2016 election, any conspiracy with Trump’s team and whether the president subsequently obstructed justice.

Along the way, a total of 34 people were charged, including 25 Russians and several of the president’s close associates. Some of the Russians charged were accused of spreading disinformation on social media, while others were charged with hacking Democratic Party emails and releasing them through WikiLeaks at key moments to undermine Hillary Clinton.

No Americans have been charged with working with Russians during the campaign. However, Mueller helped expose eagerness by Trump and his associates to capitalize on Moscow’s assistance, and then lie about it repeatedly.

Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, admitted to seeking help from the Kremlin to build a luxury skyscraper in Moscow that would have earned Trump hundreds of millions of dollars. The negotiations were underway until after Trump secured the Republican presidential nomination, far longer than Cohen had originally testified to Congress. He is scheduled to start a three-year prison sentence on May 6.

Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, pleaded guilty to lying about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition period.

Roger Stone, a longtime political adviser to Trump, was indicted in January in connection with lying about his pursuit of Democrats’ hacked emails from WikiLeaks. He has pleaded not guilty and he is scheduled to stand trial this year.

In addition, Donald Trump Jr. accepted a meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign after being told she represented the Kremlin’s support for his father. “I love it,” Trump Jr. wrote to an intermediary, and he hosted the lawyer at Trump Tower with Jared Kushner, his brother-in-law and a top campaign adviser, and Paul Manafort, the campaign chairman.

No charges have been filed in connection with the Trump Tower meeting in June 2016, and participants have said that no campaign assistance was provided during the encounter.

Manafort was convicted of financial crimes connected to his work as a political consultant to what was then the pro-Russia government in Ukraine, and he also pleaded guilty to two conspiracy charges related to attempted witness tampering and an illegal lobbying scheme. He has been sentenced to 7 1/2 years in prison.

Mueller’s work has also led to other investigations, notably in New York, where Cohen admitted his role in a hush money scheme that silenced two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump. Federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York, which is handling the case, said Trump directed the scheme during the campaign, directly implicating the president in a felony.

There are also ongoing investigations into Trump’s inaugural committee, his now-defunct charitable foundation and his businesses.

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(Laura King contributed to this report.)

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©2019 Los Angeles Times

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