Washington: Details of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 US election were released yesterday, showing a series of incidents in which US President Donald Trump took actions to impede the probe that raised questions of whether he committed the crime of obstruction of justice.
Release of a long-awaited report by Mueller was a watershed moment in Trump’s tumultuous presidency. Ahead of its release, US Attorney General William Barr – whose Department of Justice oversaw the investigation – delivered a spirited defence of the president and his actions, infuriating Democrats.
Struggle with legal implications
Mueller did not make a conclusion on whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr subsequently concluded that Trump had not broken the law, but told a news conference that Mueller had detailed “10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offence.” The report said investigators struggled with the legal implications of investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice.
the conclusion is really Complicated
A central question facing the Justice Department has been why Mueller’s team did not reach a conclusion about whether the president obstructed justice. The issue was complicated, the report said, by two key issues - the fact that under department practice, a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, and that a president has a great deal of constitutional authority to give orders to other government employees. Trump ultimately submitted written answers to the investigators. The special counsel’s office considered them “inadequate” but did not press for an interview because doing so would cause a “substantial delay,” the report says.
The report said investigators felt they have “sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the President’s testimony.”
Lacked confidence to clear Trump
“We concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a president’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” Mueller said in the report sent to Congress. “At the same time, if we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
White House staff came to Trump’s aid
It appears that Trump may have been saved from more serious legal jeopardy by his own staffers, who refused to carry out orders they thought were problematic or legally dangerous. For instance, when the president was facing growing questions about then-national security adviser Michael Flynn’s conversation about sanctions with a Russian ambassador, Trump ordered another aide, KT McFarland, to write an email saying that the president did not direct those conversations. She decided not to do so, unsure if that was true and fearing it might be improper.
Russia wanted to help Trump campaign
“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Mueller’s team wrote.
White House counsel refused to fire Mueller
White House counsel Don McGahn refused to carry out Trump’s order to fire Mueller “for fear of being seen as triggering another ‘Saturday night massacre’”. Trump had wanted Mueller removed in June 2017 on the grounds of conflict of interest. The Saturday Night Massacre refers to an effort by US president Richard Nixon in 1973 to thwart the Watergate investigation.
Report most redacted on Russian meddling
The Mueller report appears to be most heavily redacted in its first section, which covers Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and examines contacts between Russian representatives and the Trump campaign. The report concludes there was no criminal culpability by Trump aides. Several pages in that first section are almost entirely blacked out. The report’s second section, examining possible obstruction by Trump, appears more lightly redacted. The Justice Department’s careful excisions begin as early as the fourth page of the report. Barr said he was withholding grand jury and classified information as well as portions relating to ongoing investigation and the privacy or reputation of uncharged “peripheral” people.
- Washington Post (With inputs from agencies)
WHAT IS THE MUELLER REPORT?
• The Special Counsel investigation of 2017 to 2019, also referred to as the Mueller probe, Mueller investigation and Russia investigation, was a US counterintelligence investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
• It included a criminal investigation which looked into potential obstruction of justice charges against US President Donald Trump and others within the Trump campaign and US administration.
• Conducted by the US Department of Justice Special Counsel’s Office headed by Robert Mueller, a Republican and former Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Special Counsel investigation began eight days after Trump dismissed FBI director James Comey, who had been leading existing FBI investigations since July 2016 into links between Trump associates and Russian officials.
• Following Comey’s firing, more than 130 Democratic Party lawmakers in Congress called for the appointment of a special counsel, while the FBI began investigating Trump for obstruction of justice. The special counsel’s office took over both these investigations from the FBI.
Pelosi, Schumer call for Mueller’s testimony ‘as soon as possible’
Congress’s top two Democrats called for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill “as soon as possible,” saying it’s needed to restore public trust after Attorney General William Barr’s “regrettably partisan” handling of Mueller’s report set for release Thursday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr’s four-page summary of the report, his testimony last week before Congress and his press conference hours before Mueller’s redacted report was made public has resulted “in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality”.
“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible,” the two said in a joint statement. “The American people deserve to hear the truth.” Democrats quickly blasted Barr’s plan to brief reporters ahead of releasing the report, with five House chairmen releasing a joint statement calling on Barr to cancel the news conference and “let the full report speak for itself.”