The Mueller report explained: what we learned from Barr’s letter to Congress

March  27. 2019

The Mueller report explained: what we learned from Barr’s letter to Congress

What’s revealed by the attorney general’s summary of the Trump-Russia investigation? And will the report be made public?


Exterior shot of the White House
William Barr sent his summary of the Muller report to Congress on Sunday Photograph: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

Barr is still reviewing Muller’s report

William Barr: Although my review is ongoing, I believe that it is in the public interest to describe the report and to summarize the principal conclusions reached by the Special Counsel and the results of his investigation.

Barr immediately makes clear that his letter will only be a summary of the top-line conclusions from Robert Mueller’s 22-month investigation. At just four pages long, the letter makes no claim to outline the full substance of the special counsel’s findings, nor does it detail the evidence Mueller has amassed or the legal reasoning behind his decision making. Instead, we have the bare bones. Mueller had handed the full report to the attorney general less than 48 hours earlier, and Barr makes clear he is still reviewing its contents.

On the size of the investigation

In the report, the Special Counsel noted that, in completing his investigation, he employed 19 lawyers who were assisted by a team of approximately 40 FBI agents, intelligence analysts, forensic accountants, and other professional staff. The Special Counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants, obtained more than 230 orders for communication records, issued almost 50 orders authorizing use of pen registers, made 13 requests to foreign governments for evidence, and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.

Here, the sheer size of the Mueller investigation is laid bare for the first time. Although the cost of the Russia investigation has been public for some time, along with the 37 public indictments issued by Mueller, the scale of the evidence he has amassed has not been known. Barr is clearly alluding to how comprehensive the special counsel’s investigation has been. While the length of Mueller’s final report is not known, it is likely to be based on hundreds of thousands of pages of evidence. Democrats have made clear they want access to as much of the report and its underlying evidence as possible.

Image result for bob mueller

The report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments yet to be made public.

This is the first of Barr’s major announcements: Mueller will issue no fresh charges as the investigation wraps up. This is clearly good news for members of Donald Trump’s inner circle, including his son Donald Trump Jr, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and, indeed, for Trump himself. There had been speculation that a number of sealed indictments in the same district court handling the Mueller prosecution could relate to further indictments from the special counsel. This is now clearly not the case. However, other criminal investigations involving the president and members of his inner circle are ongoing, most notably in the southern district of New York. Barr makes no comment on the status of these proceedings.

On collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia

The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election. As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

This is undoubtedly a pivotal conclusion of the investigation. Following almost two years of investigation Barr says that Mueller has found no evidence to prove that any member of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election. He quotes only a partial sentence from the report to substantiate this.

Also of note here is Barr’s supplying a short definition of how Mueller defined collusion. Quoting directly from Mueller’s report in a short footnote, Barr says the special counsel counted collusion as an “agreement – tacit or express – between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference”. This means that for any member of the campaign to be accused of colluding with Russia they would have had to have done so knowingly. Barr says that Mueller found two ways in which Russians interfered during 2016: a coordinated internet disinformation campaign and direct computer hacking. He provides no further details on the crimes themselves but further information on at least some of these actions has already been made public by Mueller through criminal indictments.

On obstruction of justice

The Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as “difficult issues” of law and fact concerning whether the President’s actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr briskly moves on to the last major revelation from Mueller: the special counsel was unable to decide whether Donald Trump obstructed justice during the investigation. Barr once again hangs a partial sentence quoted from the report making clear that Mueller did not completely clear Trump of obstruction. But the scant details make it impossible to understand the legal reasoning behind Mueller’s decision nor all the evidence taken into account to make it.

Conclusion on obstruction of justice

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

This revelation is likely to be the most controversial, at least until more of Mueller’s report is released. It was Barr and his deputy Rod Rosenstein, both appointed to their positions by Trump himself, that decided the president should face no prosecution over obstruction of justice. Although Barr displays those he consulted with to make that decision and cites justice department guidelines governing the process, there is no escaping that the decision not to prosecute the president was made by one of his own cabinet members who has already privately described Mueller’s investigation of obstruction of justice as “fatally misconceived”.

Barr explains his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction

Generally speaking, 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 with a a sufficient nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding. In cataloguing the President’s actions, many of which took place in public view, the report identifies no actions that, in our judgement, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent, each of which, under the Department’s principles of federal prosecution guiding charging decisions, would need to be proven beyond a reasonable doubt to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense.

Barr provides a little elaboration on his decision not to charge Trump with obstruction. Critically, Barr makes the point that at least part of the reason Trump is not being charged is due to the lack of an underlying crime. That while there may be sound arguments for Trump obstructing justice, it was not itself a criminal act because there had been no crime in the first place.

There is also a suggestion from Barr here that while many of these potentially obstructive actions took place in public – it seems likely he is partially referring to Trump’s public comments on his decision to fire FBI director James Comey – there are others the public may not yet know about.

Will the public see the Mueller report?

As I have previously stated, however, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. For that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations, and Departmental policies.

The attorney general concludes by making a commitment to making parts of Mueller’s report available to the public. There is, however, no commitment to a time frame, nor any indication of how much will be made available. Senior Democrats have indicated they will issue a subpoena for the full report if they are not satisfied with what Barr provides.

As the fall-out from the Mueller report unfolds …

…The Guardian is editorially independent, meaning we set our own agenda. Our journalism is free from commercial bias and not influenced by billionaire owners, politicians or shareholders. No one edits our editor. No one steers our opinion.

This is important as it enables us to give a voice to those less heard, challenge the powerful and hold them to account. It’s what makes us different from so many others in the media, at a time when factual, honest reporting is critical.

6 thoughts on “The Mueller report explained: what we learned from Barr’s letter to Congress

  1. No one should be surprised that William Barr’s four-page summary he released on Sunday was just a political document. No one should be surprised that Barr will white-wash Robert Mueller’s report to protect his boss. Donald Trump nominated Barr to be his Attorney General because of his public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry. He got his job because he believes a sitting president cannot be indicted.

    During the Watergate era, special prosecutor Leon Jaworski produced a similar report laying out all the facts related to Richard Nixon’s potential obstruction of justice. He passed the report along to the House Judiciary Committee, which decided what to do based on the facts and evidence presented. William Barr broke that norm and instead issued a four-page letter in which he made the decision himself that Trump did not obstruct justice – and he did it without presenting any underlying facts. Barr could have just passed the information from the Mueller report onto the Judiciary Committee for them to decide what to do with it, following in Jaworski’s footsteps. Instead, somewhat inexplicably, he decided to take it upon himself to declare definitively … there is no crime there.

    People who have known Mueller for years and who have worked with him believe Barr’s summary of the special counsel findings could be “very different” than Mueller’s final conclusions. They don’t believe Mueller would have left the decision on obstruction to Barr, who was recently appointed by Trump.

    As former attorney general Eric Holder said: “It seems hard for me to imagine that Bob Mueller asked Bill Barr to do this. That would be Bob Mueller shifting the responsibility for making the call to the attorney general, and that’s just not the way in which Bob Mueller is wound.”

    Former federal prosecutor Gene Rossi went further to say that he believes Mueller’s final report could be “very different” from Barr’s PR stunt and that the attorney general should have left the unsettles question of obstruction to Congress. He called Barr’s four-page letter released on Sunday “tainted.”

    The Daily Beast reported, quoting a source with direct knowledge of the investigation, that it was their interpretation that “Mueller was making a case to Congress, who (unlike DOJ, in Mueller’s view) is empowered to weigh the lawfulness of a president’s conduct.” Mueller intended his report to be a case to Congress on Trump obstruction of justice, but he was blocked by Barr.

    Mueller appears to have gathered the evidence on obstruction of justice with the intention of turning it over to Congress. This is what many experts thought Mueller might do. For Congress has the lawful authority to judge the president’s conduct. The attorney general does not have the authority to judge Trump’s behavior. The authority rests with Congress, which is why Mueller must be given the platform that Barr and Trump denied him to present all of the evidence related to obstruction of justice.

    Given the Trump administration’s public relations stunt and the controversy surrounding Barr’s four-page summary, it is imperatively vital now more than ever that Mueller, Rosenstein, and Barr be called to testify in Congress to clear the air about potential Trump obstruction of justice, along with the release of the report and all of Mueller’s collected materials.

  2. For the past two years, we have endured Donald Trump’s paranoid claims about fellow Republican Robert Mueller, calling him an angry Democrat on a witch hunt. He held his fire on Mueller until Bill Barr scrubbed and spun Mueller report into a four-page letter that Trump deceptively says exonerated him, even though his hand-picked Attorney General said the opposite.

    If Mueller report did exonerate Trump as he claims, then he has just admitted to lying to his followers. For witch hunts don’t result in exoneration; witch hunts don’t leave legal conclusions to be drawn by the subject’s hand-picked Attorney-General.

    Throughout it all, Trump had his followers in place to make sure there would be the appearance of exoneration – facts and evidence be damned! Trump had his spin meisters out there smearing Mueller’s character in the name of discrediting his findings and the process itself. When it came to Trump’s most dedicated followers, he succeeded. He has kept their hopes up, dancing in great rejoice chanting “I hope, I hope, I hope”.

    We know the 37 indictments resulting from the Mueller probe weren’t for nothing. We know several people in the Trump campaign lied to officials about their contact with Russians and they are in jail. We know that Russians were indicted for interfering in the 2016 election in the name of helping Donald Trump. We know that Donald Trump jr. was happy to accept help from a Russian attorney to smear Hillary Clinton. We also know that Trump publicaly called on Wikileaks to release missing emails.

    But we have yet to know what Mueller report has actually said. We are left scratching our heads when Barr’s four page summary suggests Mueller concluded there was no conspiracy with Russia. We need to see the full report to what extent, if any, it differs with the Attorney General’s characterization of Special Counsel’s findings.

    We need to see the full report to see what Mueller’s conclusions actually were, and what they were based on. We need to see the full report to determine to what extent the Attorney General reflected Mueller’s findings, and to what degree, if any, did Barr omit substantial facts and conclusions, in his letter of summary.

    Without knowing who Mueller talked to or what evidence he considered, we have no way of knowing how valid Barr’s conclusion is. Without seeing Mueller’s report, we only have Barr’s word that this was Mueller’s conclusion.

    House Democrats have demanded the full Mueller report by April 2. And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has just blocked a measure by Senator Chuck Schumer to make the Mueller report public. This is another Rashomon. The White House claims the Mueller report has totally exonerated Trump. If the report is so great for Trump, why did McConnell block this measure? Unless the Republican cover story on the Mueller report and Trump PR scam of “total exoneration” are falling apart.

    There will be a bloody fight in the Congress. It’s getting interesting, very interesting. I can’t wait for the next episode.

    Meanwhile, Trump’s most dedicated followers are still rejoicing in ecstasy, chanting: “I hope, I hope, I hope.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.