Did the Mueller report exonerate Donald Trump? | The Tylt

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Did the Mueller report exonerate Donald Trump?

Attorney General William Barr had been sharply critical of the Mueller investigation, writing in a June 2018 memo that if Mueller's ideas about obstruction of justice were given credence by the Justice Department, they "would do lasting damage to the presidency and to the administration of law within the executive branch.” Some have been concerned that Barr indicated a bias against Mueller's investigation and should recuse himself.

Barr, however, did not recuse himself. Instead, upon receiving Mueller's report, Barr spent only 48 hours reviewing the results before submitting his letter to Congress. In the letter, Barr stated that Mueller had determined there was no evidence the Trump campaign had actively colluded with the Russian government. Mueller said that despite the lack of evidence of collusion, he could not draw any definite legal conclusions on whether the president had attempted to obstruct the investigation. Mueller turned the evidence over to Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to determine whether to charge the president with obstruction of justice.

Barr writes:

After reviewing the Special Counsel's final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.
...In cataloguing the President's actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department's principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.

Barr does quote Robert Mueller in his letter, saying Mueller's report does not exonerate the president. 


Neal Katyal, a law professor at Georgetown who drafted the special counsel regulations under which Mueller operated, wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times that many questions still remain about the obstruction issue and Barr's decision to decline to prosecute.

Katyal writes that Barr's conclusion, reached in such a short amount of time, "should be deeply concerning to every American." Katyal also voices concerns about the fact that Mueller and his team were never able to interview the president directly. The president's lawyers declined to allow him to be interviewed, and Mueller did not ultimately subpoena Trump. Therefore Katyal believes there could be no legitimate conclusions drawn about whether the president acted to obstruct the investigation with "corrupt intent."

What kind of prosecutor would make a decision about someone’s intent without even trying to talk to him? Particularly in light of Mr. Mueller’s pointed statement that his report does not “exonerate” Mr. Trump. Mr. Mueller didn’t have to say anything like that. He did so for a reason. And that reason may well be that there is troubling evidence in the substantial record that he compiled.
Furthermore, we do not know why Mr. Mueller did not try to force an interview with the president. The reason matters greatly. Mr. Mueller could have concluded that interviews of sitting presidents for obstruction matters are better done within the context of a congressional impeachment investigation (perhaps because a sitting president cannot be indicted, the Barr letter says this legal argument didn’t influence Mr. Barr’s conclusion but again is pointedly silent as to Mr. Mueller).
Or Mr. Barr could have concluded that the attorney general, not a special counsel, should carry out such an interview. The fact that Mr. Barr rushed to judgment, within 48 hours, after a 22-month investigation, is deeply worrisome.

In an interview with the New Yorker, Jack Goldsmith, a professor at Harvard Law School who served in George W. Bush's Justice Department, agreed with Mueller and Barr's conclusions, yet stopped short of saying this is an exoneration.

Barr says Mueller thoroughly laid out the evidence for and against obstruction, but Mueller did not resolve what he viewed as “difficult issues” of both law and fact. One difficult issue of law Barr identifies in his letter: the absence of evidence that the President committed an underlying crime related to Russia and the 2016 election, which, as a practical matter, makes it harder to show a corrupt intent to obstruct justice. A second difficult issue of law is that most, if not all, of Trump’s alleged acts of obstruction were intimately tied to his constitutional powers as Chief Executive and as the leader of U.S. foreign policy. Any prosecution for obstruction of justice would have had to contend with serious constitutional objections, based on Presidential power, and hard statutory questions, based on these constitutional issues. In light of these legal uncertainties, plus unspecified factual ones, Mueller made the reasonable call to leave the question of whether a President obstructed justice to the head of the Justice Department, the Attorney General.

In his letter, Barr argues if there was no underlying crime—collusion with Russia—then the president could not obstruct justice. Per Vox:

Earlier in the letter he points out that Mueller didn’t find evidence establishing Trump himself was involved in an underlying crime regarding Russian interference, then claims that this “bears upon the President’s intent with regard to obstruction” — in other words, that if there wasn’t a crime to hide from the public or prosecutors to begin with, there wouldn’t be any need for Trump to obstruct.
Barr then mentions that many of the actions in question “took place in public view,” but it’s not clear if he emphasizes that just to make clear that Mueller didn’t uncover a ton of secret stuff or if he and Rosenstein decided Trump was less likely to be acting with “corrupt intent” if he was just tweeting it out.

The president took the report to mean he was completely cleared of any wrongdoing, immediately celebrating the results. Per the New York Times:

The president trumpeted the news almost immediately, even as he mischaracterized the special counsel’s findings. “It was a complete and total exoneration,” Mr. Trump told reporters in Florida before boarding Air Force One. “It’s a shame that our country had to go through this. To be honest, it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”
He added, “This was an illegal takedown that failed.”

The president was joined in his celebration by a coterie of supporters. NBC News reports:

"Democrats took us on a frantic, chaotic, conspiracy-laden roller coaster for two years, alleging wrongdoing where there was none," Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale said in a statement. "So distraught and blindsided by the results of the 2016 elections, Democrats lied to the American people continually, hoping to undo the legitimate election of President Trump."
Trump and his team may be vastly oversimplifying Mueller's full conclusions, which have not been revealed and could include damaging information about the president's behavior. But even if there are landmines in that report — and if it even sees the light of day — many voters may skip the nuance and determine that Trump did nothing wrong if he wasn't prosecuted.

Democratic lawmakers were quick to indicate their dissatisfaction with Barr's letter. Rep. Jerry Nadler, Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, called for the attorney general to appear before Congress to explain the findings. 


While the Mueller investigation has concluded, the president, his campaign and the Trump organization are still involved in myriad criminal investigations. The Atlantic reports that the president and those in his orbit are still being investigated in the Southern District of New York, the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice, the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia and many more.

Prosecutors are reportedly looking into the financial dealings of Trump’s inauguration committee, which took in a record $107 million for the festivities surrounding his inauguration, in January 2017. In February, prosecutors subpoenaed a wide range of documents from the inauguration committee, and investigators seem particularly interested in whether it took money from donors connected to Middle Eastern governments.
...During testimony before the House Oversight Committee in February, Trump’s former personal lawyer Cohen revealed that prosecutors were also looking into his communications with Trump and Trump’s representatives following the FBI raid of Cohen’s office in April 2018. SDNY prosecutors have not publicly commented on this investigation, though recently released court documents show that Mueller had a warrant to look into Cohen’s emails as early as July 2017.
At least four ongoing investigations are happening at the state and local level in New York. The tax departments for both New York State and New York City have opened investigations into Trump’s taxes after a New York Times investigation found that Trump benefited from a $400 million tax scheme.
In March, the New York attorney general opened an investigation into Trump Organization projects, including four major Trump Hotel and Tower projects and the organization’s failed attempt to purchase the Buffalo Bills football team. The office subpoenaed Deutsche Bank and Investors Bank for its financial records related to the Trump Organization. Even when other banks refused to lend to Trump, Deutsche Bank became his go-to lender, and the New York attorney general hopes that it kept records of his financial practices that could be of use to the state in its investigations.
Did the Mueller report exonerate Donald Trump?
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