AG Barr releases redacted Mueller report

‘Bottom line’ is no collusion, Barr stresses at news conference before public release

(AP Photo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Public at last, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday that President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president.

Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed people around him to try to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel’s appointment in May 2017. Those efforts “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.

After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted report made for riveting reading.

In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel’s appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.”

In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.

Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation “very unfair” to the president and say that Mueller should limit his probe to “investigating election meddling for future elections.” Sessions didn’t do so.

Flash forward to Thursday, and Trump celebrated the report’s release, telling the audience at an unrelated White House event that he was having “a good day, too. It was called no collusion, no obstruction.” He also renewed his calls for an investigation into the origins of the inquiry, saying, “We do have to get to the bottom of these things, I will say.”

The Justice Department posted a redacted version of the report online, 90 minutes after Attorney General William Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings.

The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making and at the same time the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.

Democrats cried foul as Barr held a press conference just before the release — “spinning the report” in the words of Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They sent up a chorus of calls for Mueller himself to testify before Congress, and Barr said he wouldn’t object.

Moments after Barr finished speaking, House Judiciary Chairman Nadler sent a letter requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23.”

Mueller evaluated 10 episodes for possible obstruction of justice, and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. The episodes included Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.

The president’s lawyers have said Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller’s team deemed the episodes deserving of criminal scrutiny.

As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”

Mueller also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge any campaign official with working as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia.

The report included an appendix that contained 12 pages of Trump’s written responses to the special counsel. They included no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Trump’s legal team.

Trump told Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning in advance about the much-scrutinized Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made “complimentary statements” about him.

Trump said that his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and that he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.

Mueller’s team wrote that Trump’s answers were “inadequate.” They considered issuing a subpoena for Trump, but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle.

Trump’s legal team called the results “a total victory for the president.”

Eager to get in a last word ahead of the public release of the special counsel’s report, Barr earlier Thursday laid out in advance what he said was the “bottom line:” No cooperation between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and Russian government hackers.

While Mueller drew no conclusion about whether Trump had obstructed justice in the investigation, Barr said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein personally had concluded that while Trump was “frustrated and angered” about the Mueller probe, nothing the president did rose to the level of an “obstruction-of-justice offense.” Barr said Mueller’s report examined 10 episodes pertaining to Trump and obstruction.

All Washington was in a high state of alert, Trump himself tweeting a dozen times ahead of its release. He repeated what has become a near daily refrain of criticism of the Russia investigation using his favored Twitter account. “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” he wrote.

Then he sent out a photo mimicking the “Game of Thrones” logo, showing him emerging from a mist and the huge words “GAME OVER.”

Eager to judge the report for themselves, Democrats quickly took on Barr’s arguments.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted that now that the president’s “campaign press conference is over” it’s time for Congress and the American people to see it.

Republican allies of the president quickly embraced Barr’s assessment. Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., tweeted: “There was no collusion. It’s over.”

Barr said the president did not exert executive privilege to withhold anything in the report. And he said the president’s personal attorney had requested and gotten a chance to review the report before its public release.

Barr said that he and Rosenstein disagreed with some of Mueller’s “legal theories” pertaining to obstruction of justice. But he said that didn’t influence their conclusion that Trump didn’t commit a crime.

He said they set their feelings on the matter aside and accepted Mueller’s “legal framework for purposes of our analysis” but still determined that the evidence gathered by Mueller was “not sufficient to establish” that Trump had violated the law.

Barr said that no one outside the Justice Department has seen the unredacted Mueller report. And he added that no redactions were either made or proposed outside of the small group of Justice staffers that pored over Mueller’s report.

The report’s release will represent a moment of closure nearly two years in the making and at the same time the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.

Even ahead of the report’s release, Democrats cried foul about Barr’s press conference, for “spinning the report” in the words of Schumer.

“The process is poisoned before the report is even released,” he said.

And moments after Barr finished speaking, House Judiciary Chairman Nadler sent a letter requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23.”

Barr said he had no objection to Mueller testifying.

Barr’s news conference ended abruptly after he bristled at the tone of some questions about how he handled the Mueller report.

Overall, Mueller brought charges against 34 people — including six Trump aides and advisers — and revealed a sophisticated, wide-ranging Russian effort to influence the 2016 presidential election. Twenty-five of those charged were against Russians accused either in the hacking of Democratic email accounts or of a hidden but powerful social media effort to spread disinformation online.

Five former Trump aides or advisers pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate in Mueller’s investigation, among them Trump’s campaign chairman, national security adviser and personal lawyer.

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AP writers Zeke Miller, Mary Clare Jalonick, Lisa Mascaro, Dustin Weaver, Deb Riechmann, Susannah George, Michael R. Sisak, Stephen Braun, Jill Colvin, Jessica Gresko, Mark Sherman, Julie Pace and Elizabeth Kennedy contributed to this report.

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For complete coverage of the Mueller report, go to: https://www.apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations

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