“Does not exonerate.”
“Complete and total exoneration.”
Within minutes of the March 24 release of U.S. Attorney General William Barr’s outline of the report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, one thing quickly became clear: The investigation into whether President Donald Trump's campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election has yet to settle the issue.
Trump's team is already celebrating, claiming the president has already been vindicated. According to Barr, Mueller's report says his 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 did not find any collusion and did not find any obstruction. AG Barr and Deputy AG Rosenstein further determined there was no obstruction," White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Twitter. "The findings of the DOJ are a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.”
Not so fast, say Trump's opponents.
Neither Mueller nor Barr actually said that. On the question of whether Trump obstructed justice during the investigation, it's not so cut-and-dried.
"The Special Counsel stated that 'while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,'” Barr, Trump’s pick for attorney general who was confirmed to the post just last month, wrote in his four-page outline of the "principal findings" of the 22-month-long investigation.
Mueller laid out the facts but did not "draw a conclusion" on whether obstruction occurred, according to Barr, who went on to say that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein "concluded that the evidence developed during [Mueller's] investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction of justice offense."
Barr, the U.S. chief prosecutor, also noted that Mueller's team has no plans to issue any new indictments.
Democrats were quick to counter the White House’s take on Barr’s outline, warning him not to bury the evidence and bringing up the possibility of issuing a subpoena to Mueller to testify on the complete findings of his report.
Over the course of his probe, Mueller issued some 2,800 subpoenas and indicted more than three dozen people and entities on various charges. But none of the charges has directly addressed the question of whether there was coordination between Trump's associates and Russian officials.
Furthermore, Mueller, who spent nearly two years investigating allegations that Russia meddled in the 2016 election to help Trump defeat his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton, did not say whether a crime was committed, instead leaving that determination to the attorney general.
“The attorney general’s offer to provide a summary of the report’s conclusions is insufficient. Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise,” said Democrat Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker.
As Barr and the Department of Justice consider how much of the Mueller report to release publicly, legal analysts say battles will continue over what can be released, as well as whether the special counsel found potential offenses committed by Trump that could be related to whether lawmakers pursue the president’s impeachment.
The outline states that Mueller didn’t find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in efforts to influence the election “despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist” the campaign. The summary did not name those individuals, and Democrats have demanded more information behind the conclusion that no conspiracy was established.
Robert Reich, a professor at the University of California in Berkeley and a former secretary of labor during the Clinton administration, said the case for obstruction of justice against Trump is "strong."
“Barr's summary not only glosses over findings and leaves holes in Mueller's report, but it also buries a critical detail. Barr has decided not to bring obstruction of justice charges against Trump to impede the investigation. This despite the fact that Trump himself admitted he fired FBI Director James Comey to stop the Russia investigation,” he said.