Special Counsel Robert Mueller said he found “insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy” involving the Trump campaign but didn’t reach a conclusion on whether President Donald Trump obstructed justice.
“If we had had confidence the president clearly did not commit a crime we would have said so,” Mueller said in a statement Wednesday at the Justice Department, where he announced he was ending his Russia probe and shutting down his office.
As Democrats in Congress demand that he testify, Mueller said he won’t provide any information not already in his report.
It was the first time the veteran prosecutor has spoken in public in the two years since he was named special counsel. It came amid fierce partisan disputes over the 448-page report he completed two months ago on Russian interference in the 2016 election, any links to the Trump campaign and whether President Donald Trump sought to obstruct justice.
The White House was advised Tuesday night of Mueller’s plans to make a public statement and didn’t object, according to a Trump administration official.
Mueller’s report, with some redactions, was released by Attorney General William Barr on April 18 — but only after he issued summaries that Democrats said were tilted to favor Trump. Barr said Mueller reached no conclusion on obstruction of justice by Trump so he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made their own finding that there wasn’t evidence to make a criminal case against the president. The summaries led to Trump’s frequent tweets that Mueller found “NO COLLUSION and NO OBSTRUCTION!”
Mueller complained about Barr’s summaries in a letter to the attorney general in March that later was made public.
“The summary letter the department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller wrote. Barr dismissed the complaint as “a bit snitty” in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Mueller has been in negotiations with the Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee, which wants to question him over his findings. The veteran prosecutor and former FBI director has balked at testifying in public, saying he doesn’t want to be dragged into a political fight, according to people who asked not to be identified discussing the continuing negotiations. Among the options Mueller has raised is making a public statement before taking questions from lawmakers behind closed doors.
While the special counsel’s probe has been closed, he has remained in his post as a Justice Department employee. His final report included notice that he referred 14 investigations to various U.S. attorneys, most of which still remain secret.
Democrats have said they want to know more about Mueller’s findings concerning Trump, particularly whether he tried to obstruct the investigation. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted calls from some members of her party to open impeachment proceedings against the president.
Republicans have their own set of questions, mostly related to the origins of the Russia probe that they say was tainted by anti-Trump bias among some FBI agents and Justice Department officials. Barr has opened his own review into the origins of the Russia investigation.
Mueller’s investigation exposed a “sweeping and systematic” operation by the Russian government to interfere in the election, including making multiple contacts with officials associated with Trump’s presidential campaign. Barr released a redacted version of the report on April 18.
Although the investigation didn’t establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government, Mueller “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign,” according to his report.
“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 report said.
Mueller also chronicled at least 10 instances in which Trump acted to obstruct the investigation, only to be stymied in some efforts by the refusal of his aides to carry out his orders.
“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,” according to the report. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
(c) 2019, Bloomberg · Chris Strohm, Shannon Pettypiece ·