US Attorney General William Barr sent a four-page letter to Congress on Sunday summarizing, in his opinion, the key points of special counsel Robert Mueller’s nearly two-year inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Long story short: Barr said Mueller did not find that President Donald Trump or any member of his campaign conspired with Russia to influence the election. But a single line from the special counsel’s report regarding the possibility that the president acted to obstruct the FBI investigation, which Barr quoted in his letter, caused both sides of the political spectrum to erupt.
Here’s what you need to know about Barr’s letter, the future of Mueller’s report and how Trump himself has already claimed his own total exoneration.
Why did Barr release his summary and what did he conclude?
The attorney general has the ultimate say over what information from the special counsel’s report is released to Congress and the broader public. He spent the weekend reading through Mueller’s findings alongside Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed the special counsel. Rosenstein oversaw much of the probe, which ensnared several high-profile members of Trump’s team, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen.
Barr wrote Sunday that he believed it was in the “public interest to describe the report” and to summarize its main conclusions. According to Barr, Mueller found that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Russian efforts to wage an influence campaign during the 2016 election, although Mueller supported the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that the Kremlin had ordered a multi-pronged disinformation attack. Barr said that Mueller did not draw a conclusion, “one way or the other,” on the issue of whether Trump sought to obstruct justice ― he merely laid out the evidence.
Then Barr wrote, “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.” He also said that their determination was not related to established Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
What else did Mueller uncover?
We don’t know much, and there are still many unanswered questions.
Very few members of even the Justice Department have seen the full report and Barr quoted only a few lines from Mueller’s report in his letter on Sunday.
According to Barr, Mueller wrote that the “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
The special counsel also stated that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
What’s next for Democrats?
Democratic leaders previously demanded that Mueller’s report be released in full. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) pledged to oppose any classified briefings for members of Congress and said that any information provided by the Justice Department must be unclassified so that lawmakers are free to speak about Mueller’s findings.
On Sunday, Democrats continued that call and expressed some frustration with Barr’s letter and his past comments in which he critiqued Mueller’s efforts to investigate possible obstruction of justice.
“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) wrote in a joint statement. “The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.”
The pair lambasted Barr as “not a neutral observer” and said he was in no position to “make objective determinations about the report.”
Other Democrats, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) have vowed to fight to see the full report. Nadler said he would take the issue to the Supreme Court, if necessary, and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said he’d consider bringing Mueller in front of Congress to testify.
What’s next for Republicans?
Republicans are overjoyed.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that Sunday was a “good day for the rule of law” and that the “cloud hanging over President Trump has been removed.” House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said that the case was now “closed” and that the country welcomed “this long-overdue conclusion.”
The GOP has already begun attacking Democrats and using Barr’s letter to push Trump’s re-election. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) accused Democrats of peddling lies and conspiracy theories “in a shameless effort to discredit” Trump. The president’s children have been evenmoreunbridled.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took a more muted tone, thanking Mueller’s office but warning of an ongoing Russian effort to “interfere with our democracy.”
“I look forward to the continuing work of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on the threats posed to our democratic institutions by foreign interference,” McConnell wrote.
Is Trump really exonerated?
The president took to Twitter shortly after Barr’s letter was released, declaring himself vindicated after nearly two years.
“No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION,” Trump wrote. “KEEP AMERICA GREAT.”
He also continued to lash out at the fact that there ever was a special counsel inquiry, calling Mueller’s probe an “illegal takedown that failed” and saying it was “a shame that our country had to go through this.”
“To be honest,” Trump tweeted, “it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this.”
But by its own words, the special counsel’s report did “not exonerate” the president on the matter of obstruction of justice. It’s unclear what evidence Mueller may have gathered during his investigation. And obstruction of justice requires evidence of Trump’s intent to thwart the law, which The Washington Post notes his regular public outbursts against any and all criticism may have made more difficult to prove.