Mueller clears Trump of conspiracy
President Trump claimed he was totally vindicated this week after Attorney General William Barr delivered the first glimpse of special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings, telling lawmakers the investigation found no evidence that Trump or his campaign illegally conspired with Russia during the 2016 election. In a four-page summary of Mueller’s official report, Barr said that “despite multiple offers from Russia-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign,” neither Trump nor his associates illegally coordinated with the Russian government in its attempts to influence the election. A triumphant Trump immediately called Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings a “complete and total exoneration.” However, Mueller left it undecided whether or not Trump obstructed justice by interfering with the investigation into Russian election meddling, citing “difficult issues” in proving the president’s intent. Barr included a direct quote from Mueller: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
With Mueller declining to decide the obstruction issue, while providing evidence for and against, Barr stepped in. He said that there was not “sufficient” evidence that Trump obstructed justice in his attempts to influence the Russia investigation, citing the lack of proof of an “underlying crime” to cover up. Democratic lawmakers demanded the release of the full report and questioned Barr’s objectivity, noting that Trump appointed him after he wrote an unsolicited memo arguing that the president could not be accused of obstruction in this case.
A Justice Department spokesman said an edited version of the report will be available “within weeks.” But it’s unclear how much of the evidence gathered by Mueller’s investigators will be released, setting the stage for a potential legal battle between the administration and Congress. “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,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) in a statement.
What the editorials said
“An exhaustive federal investigation just put the nail in the coffin of the collusion delusion,” said The Washington Examiner. Mueller’s investigation involved more than 40 FBI special agents, analysts, and other experts. It issued more than 2,800 subpoenas and executed nearly 500 search warrants, while questioning nearly 500 witnesses. Despite all of that, the special counsel still couldn’t find conclusive evidence of a conspiracy, which Democrats conjured up to delegitimize an election they lost. Now “can Democrats move on?”
Mueller’s findings “should provide some relief to all Americans,” said The New York Times. It was deeply troubling to wonder if “a presidential candidate was conspiring with Vladimir Putin to subvert American democracy.” The special counsel, however, explicitly chose not to clear Trump on obstruction of justice, “a crime that constituted one of the articles of impeachment for both Presidents Nixon and Clinton.” Was Trump’s hand-picked attorney general justified in taking less than 48 hours to dismiss that possible charge? Congress and the American people need to see Mueller’s full report to decide for themselves.
What the columnists said
Barr did what Trump “hired him to do,” said Mark Joseph Stern in Slate.com. In the memo he wrote to “audition for the job,” the attorney general stated that the president has broad constitutional authority to control Justice Department investigations, including the right to fire people investigating him. “Barr has provided Trump with a partisan victory.”
Trump’s opponents are “moving the goal posts,” said William McGurn in The Wall Street Journal. Russia conspiracy theorists have always insisted that Mueller would produce “conclusive evidence” that Trump was a traitor who conspired with the Kremlin. Now that it’s clear no such evidence is forthcoming, they’re moving on to obstruction. “This is a distraction from the real reckoning that needs to come.” Did the FBI and Justice Department pursue this bogus investigation because their members “hated Donald Trump”? It’s time to investigate the investigators.
In indictments and in this report, Mueller left no doubt that Russia interfered in the election on Trump’s behalf, said Max Boot in The Washington Post. Trump openly invited Russian hackers to attack Hillary Clinton’s email server, which they did that very day. Trump’s associates had at least 102 contacts with Russians, which many of them subsequently lied about. When Russians offered Trump’s son dirt on Hillary, his reaction was: “I love it.” An investigation of this unethical behavior was “entirely appropriate.” Outright collusion was always unlikely, said Yuval Levin in NationalReview.com. “No one who witnessed any part of the bumbling buffoonery of the Trump campaign could quite believe these people could be involved in an international conspiracy.” But given what we know about the campaign’s contacts with Russia, the details of the full report could still be ugly for Trump. “We are not at the end of the Mueller drama.”
For more than two years, Trump wanted the Russia investigation “to go away,” said Jeremy Diamond and Kevin Liptak in CNN.com. But with the special counsel’s report finding no evidence of collusion, the president isn’t ready to let it go. Trump and his surrogates hope to “weaponize the results” against the media and Democrats as part of the president’s 2020 reelection campaign. “There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things,” Trump said. “I would say some treasonous things against our country.” The mood in the White House is jubilant, said Katie Rogers and Maggie Haberman in The New York Times. But the celebration could be premature, with the full Mueller report still pending. By declaring victory, the White House “struck the exact wrong tone,” said Joe Lockhart, who was President Bill Clinton’s press secretary during his impeachment. When more of the full report is released, he said, every new revelation will become “a big story.”
Cover illustration by Fred Harper.
Cover photos from AP, Shutterstock, Reuters ■