Special Counsel Robert Mueller.—AP
Special Counsel Robert Mueller.—AP

WASHINGTON: Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US election did not find that President Donald Trump committed a crime, but also does not exonerate him, according to a summary of findings released on Sunday.

Mueller, who spent nearly two years investigating allegations that Russia meddled in the presidential election to help Trump defeat his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, also found no evidence that any member of Trump’s election campaign conspired with Russia during the election. “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Attorney General William Barr quoted Mueller as writing in his report on the issue of possible obstruction of justice.

Robert Mueller said he would leave it to the attorney general to decide whether a crime was committed.

Barr’s summary said Mueller found no evidence that the Trump campaign coordinated with Russia, despite multiple offers from individuals associated with Russia.

The release of the summary is likely to ignite a new political fight in Washington as Democrats push for Barr to release the full report, and Trump seizes on the findings as vindication of his near daily assertion that he was a victim of a “witch hunt” that has cast a long shadow over his presidency.

Trump has always denied collaborating with Moscow or obstructing justice. Russia says it did not interfere in the election, although US intelligence agencies concluded that it did.

Barr said the investigation also found insufficient evidence that Trump had attempted to obstruct justice. Many of his opponents accused him of obstructing the Russia probe when he fired former FBI director James Comey.

Battle lines drawn

US lawmakers drew battle lines on Sunday over how to handle the report on Russian meddling in the 2016 election that has cast a pall over Donald Trump’s presidency.

Members of Congress, the media and Trump himself waited anxiously for Attorney General William Barr to release a summary of the report.

Trump, who decried the probe as a witch hunt and waste of time, was at his resort in Palm Beach, Florida, where he went to his golf club on Saturday and Sunday but remained uncharacteristically silent about Friday’s conclusion of the Mueller probe.

Barr, the top US law enforcement official, spent nine hours on Saturday studying the report. He and Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller, were at the Justice Department again on Sunday.

Barr said he hoped to make public a summary of its “principal conclusions” over the weekend. The White House has not received or been briefed on the report, spokesman Hogan Gidley said on Sunday morning.

Whatever the report concludes, Democrats vowed to pursue investigations on a wide range of issues involving Trump, from his business dealings to hush-money payments.

They called for the full release of the report, as well as documents backing up its findings, and have promised to subpoena any information they do not get. Many Republicans also want the report released and say it will vindicate Trump. Some cautioned portions of it might need to remain confidential.

There appeared to be initial good news for Trump and his inner circle, as Mueller did not bring any additional indictments when he handed the report over to Barr on Friday.

That signals there might be no more criminal charges against Trump associates on the issue of whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russia to help the real estate magnate beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race.

Democratic and Republican lawmakers disagree about whether no criminal charges meant there was no cooperation between the Trump campaign and Moscow.

Mueller’s court filings already showed a number of top Trump aides had contact with Russians during the campaign and after the election and that some of them lied about it.

“We know there was collusion. Why there’s been no indictments we don’t know,” US Repres­entative Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on CNN’s State of the Union.

Such comments reveal Democrats are determined to try to “go after” Trump, said Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “What they’re basically saying is that they’re going to impeach the president for being Donald Trump,” he told CNN.

Democratic leaders in Congress have rejected talk of impeachment as premature.

However, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, told ABC’s This Week that his panel has a particular obligation to determine whether Trump was “compromised in any way, whether that is criminal or not”.

Published in Dawn, March 25th, 2019