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Mueller Report Corroborates Russian Meddling, Signals Potential Legal Problems For Trump

Robert Mueller (file photo)
Robert Mueller (file photo)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller corroborated U.S. intelligence conclusions of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, and also documented President Donald Trump’s efforts to undermine his inquiry, but Mueller concluded there was not sufficient evidence to prove Trump and his team committed a crime by colluding with Russia officials.

Mueller’s findings were detailed in the partially redacted, 448-page report, released April 18, which also points to areas where Trump and his associates could still face legal problems, as well as the potential for impeachment proceedings.

Overall, the report was met with satisfaction by Trump, who said it vindicated his statements that he and his associates neither colluded with Russian officials nor sought to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.

“It was called no collusion. No obstruction,” Trump said. “There never was by the way, and there never will be. We do have to get to the bottom of these things."

“This should never happen to another president again,” Trump said, calling the allegations against him that were being investigated by Mueller's team “a hoax.”

The release of the report closed a chapter in an investigation that has overshadowed Trump’s presidency since before he even took office.

And though it does not provide evidence of criminal actions by Trump, it is likely to fuel calls for impeachment in Congress, where Democrats in the House of Representatives have faced mounting pressure to initiate such proceedings.

The Democratic chairmen and chairwomen of six separate House committee said “it must fall to Congress to assess the president’s improper, corrupt and immoral conduct in an effort to obstruct the investigation.”

The second top Democrat in the House, Steny Hoyer said impeachment was not worthwhile with the next presidential election looming, in November 2020.

"Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment,” Hoyer told CNN.

Aside from impeachment, the report points to other criminal prosecutions that have spun out of Mueller’s work, some of which are still unknown.

It said that Mueller’s team had made 14 criminal referrals that were outside the scope of the special counsel's authority -- 12 of them were redacted.

Some of the investigations that are known publicly to have emerged from Mueller’s work include the investigation into Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. He has pleaded guilty to some of the charges against him and has testified under oath to Congress about his actions.

The report, in painstaking detail, details different aspects of Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election, a finding that matches previous findings of the U.S. intelligence community, made after the November 2016 election and just weeks before Trump’s inauguration.

"The Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion,” the Mueller report said.

Among the most pointed allegations leveled earlier by Mueller regarding Russian interference was the indictment of a dozen Russian military intelligence officers who, he said, were behind the hacking and theft of Democratic party e-mails, e-mails that were released in the heat of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

The April 18 report showed that Trump understood the gravity of the appointment of Mueller—a respected former FBI director--- from the very beginning.

Mueller, who was appointed in 2017 just days after FBI Director James Comey was fired by Trump, took over an ongoing FBI investigation into Russian interactions with Trump campaign officials. That investigation stretched back to the height of the U.S. election campaign in 2016.

Trump tried to take control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice, the report said.

"Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won't be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me," Trump reportedly said.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions was legally the overseer of Mueller’s work, but he recused himself early on, and designated Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee it.

That enraged Trump, and Trump humiliated Sessions for months, until he resigned in November 2018.

According to the report, in June 2017, roughly a month after Mueller’s appointment, Trump directed White House lawyer Don McGahn to tell Sessions that Mueller had conflicts of interest and must be removed. McGahn refused, deciding that he would rather resign, the report said.

Mueller said his investigators examined several issues including the pressure on McGahn and the circumstances behind Trump’s firing of Comey, but decided there wasn’t evidence to conclude Trump obstructed justice.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report said. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Mueller also reported multiple times where Trump directed staffers or officials to curtail the Russia investigation. It said those efforts "were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests."

Despite those revelations, Mueller said that he could not conclusively determine that Trump committed criminal obstruction of justice.

"If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state," the report said. "Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Prior to the report’s release, Sessions’ successor as attorney general, William Barr, held a news conference in Washington, where he previewed the report.

He said the investigation did not find evidence that Trump or members of his campaign team colluded with the Russian effort. Barr also said Mueller’s report did not present any evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct justice during the investigation into the Russian attempts to interfere in the election.

The Mueller report also included 12 pages of Trump’s written responses to Mueller’s questions. Under an agreement with Trump’s legal team, they did not include any questions about obstruction of justice.

Though Mueller said the answers were inadequate, he said he decided against issuing a subpoena for the president to meet with investigators to answer questions.

That was, according to Mueller, because his office "had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events and to make certain assessments without the president's testimony."

In explaining the process for redacting the report, Barr said no material was redacted on the basis of Trump invoking "executive privilege," though he said that Trump officials did review the redacted report.

Barr said on April 18 that he withheld grand jury and classified information along with information related to ongoing investigations and the privacy or reputation of uncharged “peripheral” people.

In Moscow, meanwhile, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed the release of Mueller’s report as unimportant.

“This is not an issue for us. It is not a thing that interests us or causes us concern," Peskov said, adding that the Kremlin has “more interesting and important things to do.”

But Peskov did say that "it is first necessary to leaf through [the document] and understand whether it contains something that is worthy of analysis" before informing President Vladimir Putin about the report.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, dpa, and TASS
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