The Mueller Report: What it Said, and What it Didn’t

A couple weeks ago, Special Counsel Robert Mueller finished his report on President Trump’s ties with Russia and obstruction of justice.

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Disgruntled Donald Trump from ABC News

A couple weeks ago, Special Counsel Robert Mueller finished his report on President Trump’s ties with Russia and obstruction of justice. Though not released publicly, the Attorney General then wrote a 'summary' of the report which people on the right suggests "exonerates him".

On March 24, Attorney General William Barr released his 'summary' of the Mueller Report, but lawyers and politicians alike have heavily criticised the summary. The report logs the workings and conclusions of three investigations: 1) the criminal investigation into ties between President Trump and Russia, 2) the criminal investigation into obstruction of justice by President Trump, and 3) the counter-intelligence investigation into Russian interference during the 2016 election. The Barr Letter, however, only reported on the conclusions of two of these: ties with Russia and obstruction of justice. It is notable that the investigations directly linked to Trump were the only ones addressed by the Trump-appointed Attorney General.

Barr also repeatedly suggested that the report "did not establish" a conspiracy with Russia. The letter directly quoted the report, saying: "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities." This, however, does not deny such events happening, but simply says that there is not enough evidence to meet the burden of proof in a court of law.

As for the obstruction of justice, Barr tells us that: "After making a "thorough factual investigation" into these matters, the Special Counsel considered whether to evaluate the conduct under Department standards governing prosecution and declination decision but ultimately determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement. The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion - one way or the other - as to whether the examined conduct constituted an obstruction".

Barr seems to suggest that Mueller is choosing not to proceed with prosecution, not due to a lack of evidence as would be the reason for most other cases, but due to other underlying legal issues. Barr continues: "Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as "difficult issues" of law and fact concerning whether the President's action and intent could be viewed as obstruction." This does not make much sense as it suggests that evidence does exist. If Mueller chose not to prosecute, he most likely would have said so, but that fact that he - by Barr's interpretation - is skirting round the edge and giving that judgement for someone else to make suggests that there might be enough evidence for prosecution but does not know if that is legally possible.

Barr goes on, telling us his own conclusion. He says, despite the evidence either way, that there can be no obstruction of justice when there is no underlying crime. The obstruction of justice in this case refers to the firing of former FBI Director James Comey. Barr suggests that because no investigation of Trump had yet properly started, that there was no justice there to obstruct. Barr also wrote a 19-page memo on the matter, saying: "the president's motive in removing Comey and commenting on Flynn could not have been "corrupt” unless the President and his campaign were actually guilty of illegal collusion."

This also brings us to the point of why Barr felt the need to weigh in on the issue at all. Even if Mueller proposed to let others decide on where to go from here, it does not say specifically that that person should be the Attorney General rather than Congress.

It is also a concern that this conclusion, or non-conclusion, was made without a single interview of the President. Though it has been argued that sitting Presidents cannot be investigated (or at least taken from their work to be interviewed) as that would impede on the President's role as the Executive. However, this has been done before, most recently with former President Clinton who was made to give testimony concerning sexual harassment allegations against him

In spite of all of this, President Trump has already celebrated his "complete and total exoneration" despite no such thing being true.

Barr has recently said that the media has misinterpreted it, saying "I am aware of some media reports and other public statements mischaracterising my March 24 2019 supplemental notification as a "summary" of the Special Counsel's investigation and report. […] My March 24 letter was not, and did not purport to be, an exhaustive recounting of the Special Counsel's investigation or report." This could explain the letter's gaps.

Barr has said that the report will be released sometime later in the month, but Republicans are already trying to block it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel objected to a resolution calling for the report to be made public. Senator Ran Paul even went so far as to oppose releasing the report until an investigation into the Obama Presidency had been conducted.

Even the Trump Administration is possibly trying its best to distract the public through a series of unpopular announcements. Firstly, they said they wished to repeal the entire affordable care act, calling back on the Republican Party’s main goals. This goal, incidentally, fizzled as the Party failed to pass the repeal bill through the Republican-controlled Senate. Then, Education Secretary Betsy Devos said they planned to cut funding for the Special Olympics. She said in a hearing in Congress that she "had to make tough choices around the budget priorities" and "let's not use disable children in a twisted way in your [Democrats] political narrative. It's disgusting and it's shameful." Trump later said that no such cut was happening and suggested that he had to fight with Congress to keep that funding, despite the cut being a proposal from his own administration.

We continue to wait for the Mueller Report’s official release date to the public.


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