The White House on Monday claimed vindication for President Donald Trump in the lengthy investigation of his 2016 campaign’s links to Russia and his actions as president, calling it “a complete and total exoneration.”
Trump’s Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, appearing on NBC’s “Today Show” and CNN, said the American public now knows “there was no collusion” between Russia and the Trump campaign to help him win the election three years ago and that he did not obstruct justice by trying to thwart the 22-month probe by special counsel Robert Mueller.
She was declaring victory for Trump a day after Attorney General William Barr released a four-page summary of Mueller’s report of his investigation. Barr said in a letter to top U.S. lawmakers that Mueller concluded that Trump and his campaign did not collude with Moscow, but also saying that on obstruction, while “The report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
After reviewing Mueller’s report, Barr, whom Trump appointed as the country’s top law enforcement official, decided along with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein there was not enough evidence to charge Trump with obstructing justice. Barr said their decision was not based on long-standing Justice Department policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted.
“It’s hard to obstruct a crime that never took place,” Sanders told CNN, although such obstruction crimes have on occasion been prosecuted in the U.S.
Barr wrote, “To obtain and sustain an obstruction conviction, the government would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a person acting with corrupt intent engaged in obstructive conduct.”
Mueller had been investigating, among other Trump actions as president, whether his 2017 firing of James Comey, then the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation leading the Russia investigation before Mueller was appointed, was intended to thwart the Russia probe.
Sanders told NBC the Mueller investigation was “frankly something that should never have happened. This is a two-year waste of taxpayer time and dollars. They spent over 25 million dollars just to find out there was nothing there. This should never happen to another president.”
Trump had dozens of times derided the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” but Sanders declined to say the president owed him an apology after the prosecutor cleared the president of the collusion allegations.
“The Democrats and the liberal media owe the president and they owe the American people an apology,” Sanders said. “They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction from things that impact people’s everyday lives.”
In a Twitter comment Sunday, Trump said that despite Barr saying the Mueller report does not totally clear him, “No collusion, no obstruction, complete and total exoneration. Keep America Great!”
He later told reporters that the probe was “the most ridiculous thing I ever heard … it’s a shame our country had to go through this … it’s a shame the president had to go through this before I even got elected — this was an illegal takedown that failed and hopefully somebody is going to look at the other side.”
Opposition Democratic lawmakers in the House of Representatives, and Democratic presidential candidates seeking their party’s nomination to oppose Trump in the 2020 election, are demanding that Barr release the full Mueller report and the thousands of pieces of evidence his investigators collected. But it is not clear how much, if any, of the report Barr plans to disclose.
Some lawmakers say they also plan to try to force Barr to testify about his decision that Trump should not be charged with obstruction of justice and also to have Mueller testify about his investigation.
Mueller charged 25 Russians with election interference although they are unlikely to ever stand trial because the U.S. and Russia do not have an extradition treaty. He also has secured guilty pleas or won convictions for a variety of offenses against six Trump aides and advisers, including the president’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort, his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Barr’s summary noted that during the nearly two-year-long investigation, Mueller had 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents working with him, issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, talked to about 500 witnesses, and carried out nearly 500 search warrants.
The House voted unanimously earlier this month to demand the full Mueller report be released to the public. Many lawmakers also want to see any evidence Mueller used to reach his conclusions, especially now that Barr wrote the Mueller report “does not exonerate” Trump on obstruction, even if the president says it does.
“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Democratic Senate Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement. “Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the special counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler says his panel will call Barr to testify in the near future “in light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the president.”
Several Democratic presidential candidates — Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren — also said Sunday that a summary of the Mueller report filtered through the president’s “hand-picked attorney general” is unsatisfactory.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican, says Barr’s letter makes it “abundantly clear, without a shadow of a doubt, there was no collusion” and says the country welcomes the findings.