WASHINGTON – What came out on Sunday regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe conclusions is not the end of the story.
Think of it like this: It’s the end of a very important chapter in a book of undetermined length about the Trump presidency.
Mueller’s investigation handed President Donald Trump a win in concluding no one on his campaign — or anyone associated with it — conspired or coordinated with Russia while also declining to exonerate him on the matter of obstruction of justice — still, a pretty good outcome.
Trump, however, could not get through Sunday afternoon without overstating and distorting the findings on the matter of obstruction, claiming — incorrectly — that he was totally vindicated, which is not true.
The public got a glimpse at the conclusions of Mueller’s Russia probe in a four-page summary letter prepared by Trump’s new attorney general, William Barr, and released on Sunday to congressional leaders.
•Key point one: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” Barr wrote, quoting the Mueller report.
•Key point two: Barr said the special counsel “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leave 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.”
•Key point three, as it applies to Trump: Mueller kicked the obstruction question over to the Justice Department when he determined he could not reach a conclusion. His probe ended without a personal interview with Trump.
Barr wrote that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein determined that Mueller did not dig up sufficient evidence “to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense.”
What Trump said that was overstepping: “There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction, and — none whatsoever. And it was a complete and total exoneration.”
On impeachment: For now, Mueller’s conclusions — such as we know — will take some steam out of impeachment talk from Democrats, while Democratic-led congressional committees push ahead into their own independent investigations as the 2020 presidential campaign kicks into higher gear.
•What’s next one: Barr in his letter said he will release more information from the report, but not material that “by law” can’t be made public, a reference likely to grand jury testimony.
Democrats are demanding release of as much of the report as legally possible, including the underlying documents. This will likely be a battle.
Mueller launched his probe on May 17, 2017. He was given a narrow brief, to probe
“any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals
associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
… any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
•What’s next two: Republicans will say it’s done, move on. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said, “It’s good for our country to have this issue resolved and put behind us.”
•What’s next three: The House Judiciary, Intelligence and Oversight Committees — under Democratic control since January — are stepping up their Trump-related investigations.
Democrat Illinois Reps. Mike Quigley and Raja Krishnamoorthi are members of the House Intel panel; Krishnamoorthi is also on Oversight.
Quigley noted in a Sunday interview that Mueller was operating through a narrow lens, with a very high bar to clear when it comes to criminal wrongdoing charges.
“Just because the special counsel is saying they didn’t meet the burden on conspiracy doesn’t mean what they did was right. That is the bottom line,” Quigley said.
Quigley said Mueller declining to state an opinion regarding obstruction “is telling me there’s a lot of evidence that the President obstructed justice. There’s a lot of evidence that they conspired to work with the Russians.”
Krishnamoorthi said in a Sunday interview, “we’ve got to get access … Why is the attorney general holding back the report?