U.S. President Donald Trump took a swing at those responsible for launching the special-counsel investigation, saying that "evil things" and "treasonous" acts had been committed against the United States after declaring "complete and total exoneration" following the release of the summary of Robert Mueller's report on Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election.
"There are a lot of people out there that have done some very, very evil things, very bad things, I would say treasonous things against our country," Trump told journalists at the White House on March 25 without mentioning anyone by name or referring to specific facts.
However, he hinted at payback, adding: "We've gone through a period of really bad things happening -- those people will certainly be looked at. I've been looking at them for a long time."
Trump, who had repeatedly accused Mueller of running a "witch hunt," now said the former FBI director acted honorably in conducting the Russia investigation, adding he wished it could have gone quicker.
Trump, who was hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, told journalists present that "we can never let this happen to another president again."
Trump and his allies appeared jubilant after Attorney General William Barr said, in a letter released to Congress and made public on March 24, that Robert Mueller's report states that the probe "did not establish that members" of Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
But disagreement between the White House and Democratic lawmakers over the findings appeared to herald further tension and confrontation as the next presidential election, in November 2020, draws closer. Barr quoted Mueller's report as saying, "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
Russian officials and lawmakers used Barr's summary to reiterate Moscow's claim that it did not meddle in the U.S. presidential campaign -- despite the attorney general's repeated and sometimes detailed references to "election interference activities" by President Vladimir Putin's government.
In his four-page outline of the report Mueller's office delivered to him on March 22 after a 675-day investigation, Barr also said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded the evidence gathered by Mueller was "not sufficient to establish" that Trump committed obstruction of justice -- a separate question that the special counsel investigated.
Shortly after Barr's letter came out, Trump called the developments a "complete and total exoneration" and described Mueller's investigation as "an illegal takedown that failed."
In a tweet before making his remarks to reporters, Trump wrote: "No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!"
But disagreement between the White House and Democratic lawmakers over the findings appeared to herald further tension and confrontation as the next presidential election, in November 2020, draws closer.
Barr quoted Mueller's report as saying, "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
Democrats who disputed Trump's claim of vindication focused on those words and on the fact that while Mueller decided not to "draw a conclusion" on whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr -- a Trump appointee who was confirmed as the U.S. chief prosecutor in February -- decided along with Rosenstein that the evidence was insufficient to show that he did.
In a joint statement, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, and Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings called for Barr to testify before the House Judiciary Committee "without delay."
They said that the Mueller report "expressly does not exonerate the President," adding: "Instead, it 'sets out evidence on both sides of the question' of obstruction -- including the evidence that President Trump attempted to obstruct justice."
"It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the President in under 48 hours," the three Democratic lawmakers said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said that Barr's summary of the Mueller findings "raises as many questions as it answers."
"The fact that Special Counsel Mueller's report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay," they said in a joint statement.
They also said that Barr was "not a neutral observer" in the process and that his four-page letter about Mueller's report was not an objective summary about Mueller's findings.
Trump said on March 25 that it was up to Barr to decide whether detailed findings from Mueller's report would be made public.
"Up to the attorney general. Wouldn't bother me at all," he said at the White House.
Earlier, a lawyer for Trump, Jay Sekulow, said it "would be very inappropriate" to publicly release the president's written answers to Mueller, who was unable to interview Trump in person during the probe despite lengthy negotiations on the issue.
Mueller examined Russia's interference in the 2016 election, along with, as Barr's letter describes it, "allegations that members of Trump's presidential campaign, and others associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere."
That was one of several instances in which Barr's summary referred unequivocally to Russian interference. Barr said that Mueller's investigation "determined that there were two main Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election" -- one involving attempts to "sow social discord" though "disinformation on social media operations," the other "computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election."
Barr also said Mueller's report described "multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign."
Nevertheless, Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, reiterated Kremlin denials, asserting that Russia had not interfered in elections in the United States or anywhere else and saying it was natural that the probe did not establish collusion between Russia and associates of Trump.
"It's hard to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat," Peskov said on March 25.
The Russian Foreign Ministry went a step further, saying Moscow hoped that "in time, Washington will...officially admit not only that there was no 'collusion' but that all the insinuations of 'Russian intervention' are groundless slander invented for use in the domestic political struggle in the United States."
Contradicting detailed arguments provided by Mueller's office, which indicted 25 Russians during the probe, a ministry statement asserted that "Mueller's investigation produced no evidence of Moscow's involvement in the notorious cyberattacks and other attempts to 'undermine American democracy' that Russia is being accused of without end."
Mueller, a former FBI director, also examined whether Trump or his associates unlawfully attempted to obstruct justice by trying to hinder the investigation.
His long-awaited report was delivered to Barr on March 22. On March 24 -- Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C. -- Barr sent the letter to U.S. lawmakers with his outline of the "principal findings" of Mueller's investigation.
Over the course of his probe, Mueller indicted more than three dozen people and entities on various charges. None of the charges has directly addressed the question of whether there was coordination between Trump's associates and Russian officials.
Barr said that that no further indictments were to come directly from the Mueller probe. However, other jurisdictions could file charges related to offshoot issues from Mueller's investigation.
In January 2017, the same month that Trump took office, the U.S. intelligence community said it had concluded that Putin ordered a hacking-and-propaganda campaign aimed at undermining the U.S. electoral process, discrediting Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and eventually at improving Trump's chances in the election.