Mueller reportedly wants Congress to decide if Trump obstructed justice

Robert Mueller after turning in his report
(Image credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller's final report, as summarized by Attorney General Robert Barr, lays down "one proposition unambiguously: The special counsel's office did not believe that it could reasonably prove in court that any Trump campaign member or affiliate committed a crime in assisting the Russian government with its efforts," Lawfare writes. "It means there is no smoking gun. ... That's good news, in general, and it's good news for President Trump."

But Mueller explicitly did not exonerate Trump on obstruction of justice. Barr wrote that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had determined Mueller's evidence "is not sufficient to establish the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense," but "a source with direct knowledge of the investigation told The Daily Beast that it was their interpretation that 'Mueller was making a case to Congress, who (unlike DOJ, in Mueller's view) is empowered to weigh the lawfulness of a president's conduct.'"

Barr's letter "leaves the distinct sense that Mueller's detailed accounting of the president's potential acts of obstruction is significant," and "that may well be the point," Lawfare agrees. An obvious reason Mueller, "being barred from indicting the president," would lay out an extensive case for and against criminal obstruction but not give his prosecutorial opinion is that he's "teed up the question of presidential obstruction for evaluation by a different actor — to wit, by Congress."

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Barr's letter actually "seems to suggest that Trump may have done impeachment-worthy things, but not prosecution-related things," Marcy Wheeler argues at Emptywheel. "Mueller found that no Trump flunkie took part in either of the two main Russian interference attempts," and "Barr and Rod Rosenstein, together, decided because Trump did not take part in those two interference attempts, he could be not charged with obstruction," regardless of whether he "was trying to cover up some other crime, like a quid pro quo, which would still merit prosecution." House Democrats should focus on that, Wheeler suggests.

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