It was May 2017. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had just informed President Trump that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate potential ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election. “This is the end of my Presidency,” he said, slumping back in his chair.
President Trump could still be right about that. A heavily-redacted version of the long-awaited Mueller report was released Thursday by Attorney General William Barr. It contains 448 pages of unequivocally bad news for President Trump—but it stops short of accusing him of criminal wrongdoing.
AG Barr and collusion
Previously, Attorney General Barr had declared that Mueller found “no collusion” during the special counsel’s two-year investigation. Barr received Mueller’s report on March 22nd and detailed its main findings in a summary sent to Congress on March 24th. “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” he wrote.
At his spin-before-release press conference on Thursday, Barr repeated President Trump’s mantra. “No collusion,” he said multiple times. However, “collusion” is not a federal crime or commonly used legal term. Barr is coming under heavy fire from media outlets for seemingly allying with and defending President Trump and cherrypicking parts of the report that casts the President in more innocent light.
The Mueller report reveals the shady conduct of President Trump and his associates in immense detail. While Barr is correct that the report found no conclusive evidence of conspiracy, Mueller finds that Trump’s campaign advisers had a host of ties to Russia. The report chronicles the many suspicious interactions that seemed to point to conspiracy.
Obstruction of justice
The special counsel’s probe included a criminal investigation into obstruction of justice charges against President Trump and his associates, advisers, and staff. This portion of the Mueller report is potentially devastating for President Trump.
“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,” Mueller writes. “We are unable to reach such a judgment.”
Mueller’s team considered absolving the President of obstruction of justice—but decided to go out of their way to avoid exonerating President Trump. The report makes clear that President Trump tried to impede the special counsel’s investigation. It indicates that all that prevented a criminal prosecution was the Justice Department’s policy against indicting sitting presidents.
The report describes eleven episodes of obstructive conduct. A case against the President would likely center around the firing of James Comey, President Trump’s efforts to fire the special counsel, his attempts to get then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ‘unrecuse’ himself from oversight of the Russia investigation, his efforts to influence Michael Cohen’s testimony, and his attempts to cover up and misrepresent the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.
However, Mueller consistently refrains from coming to a conclusion about whether any of these acts constitute criminal obstruction of justice.
The House subpoena
The House Judiciary Committee is going to pick up where Special Counsel Mueller left off. House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) yesterday announced his plans to issue a subpoena for the full unredacted report as well as any “underlying materials”, or rather any grand jury evidence and testimony not yet brought forth.
Early this morning, Nadler said the subpoena will be coming “in the next few hours”, and just shortly after it very well did. “My Committee needs and is entitled to the full version of the report and the underlying evidence consistent with past practice,” the statement from Nadler said. “Even the redacted version of the report outlines serious instances of wrongdoing by President Trump and some of his closest associates. It now falls to Congress to determine the full scope of that alleged misconduct and to decide what steps we must take going forward.”
Congress will be the ultimate arbiter on whether or not President Trump abused the powers of his office. Let’s also not forget the formidable gang of investigators in the Southern District of New York, who some think could be an even bigger threat to President Trump than Mueller and Congress. Regardless of the Mueller report and its outcome, what we’re sure of is there is still a long road ahead in terms of the President’s legal woes.