In a mixed verdict that President Trump has already declared to be a "Complete and Total EXONERATION," special counsel Robert Mueller has apparently informed the Justice Department that he found no evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government.
Mueller’s report to Attorney General William Barr suggested, however, that Trump could have committed a crime by attempting to obstruct the various investigations into the Russia scandal, although it stopped short of directly accusing him. That detail suggests that the president’s legal troubles may not be over, although his numerous protestations of “no collusion” now appear to be supported by the results of Mueller’s 22-month investigation,
In a letter delivered to the chairmen and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary committees on Sunday, and then made public, Barr quoted Mueller as writing that his investigation “did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in election interference activities.”
On the cloudier issue of whether Trump may have obstructed justice while the investigation was in process, Barr’s letter to Congress also quotes Mueller directly: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
In an ensuing passage that is sure to be controversial, Barr went on to explain his own interpretation of the evidence presented by Mueller, writing that “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 has committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” Barr further explained that their determination was not related to or guided by “the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.”
Democrats in Congress will surely seek the release of Mueller’s full report along with the underlying evidence. Barr’s letter is circumspect on that question, but appears to suggest that he is open to at least a partial release of the report after determining which passages cannot be revealed to the public, either for national security reasons or because they pertain to ongoing criminal cases in the hands of other prosecutors.
In what will surely come as a blow to those who hoped the Mueller investigation could lead to the president’s impeachment or forced resignation, Barr’s letter to Congress makes clear that Mueller has recommended no further indictments (as was reported on Friday) and that there are no sealed indictments that have yet to be revealed.
Impeachment is now pretty clearly off the table, and no one in Trump’s inner circle appears to be in any danger of criminal prosecution as a result of the Mueller investigation. Whether federal and state investigations in other jurisdictions, including the Southern District of New York, will still pose serious legal problems for the president is of course a different question.
It may be premature to declare that the Russia scandal that has shadowed Trump’s first two-plus years in the White House is now over. But the gas has gone out of that particular balloon with remarkable speed, or so it appears at the moment. Whether many Democrats and many reporters and commentators have been following a false trail, or leaping to unwarranted conclusions, is a question we will all ponder in the weeks ahead. As Trump’s friends and foes will alike surely agree, we will now hear the president declare victory, loudly and often.