The Critical Part of Mueller’s Report That Barr Didn’t Mention


March 26, 2019

Cliff Owen / Associated Press

On Sunday afternoon, Attorney General Bill Barr presented a summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusions that contained a few sentences from Mueller’s final report, one of which directly addressed the question of collusion between Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia: “The investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” In a footnote, Barr explained that Mueller had defined “coordination” as an “agreement—tacit or express—between the Trump campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Mueller’s full report has not been made available to the public yet, so it’s not clear whether it sets forth everything the special counsel’s office learned over the course of its nearly two-year investigation—including findings about conduct that was perhaps objectionable but not criminal—or whether it is more tailored and explains only Mueller’s prosecution and declination decisions. But national-security and intelligence experts tell me that Mueller’s decision not to charge Trump or his campaign team with a conspiracy is far from dispositive, and that the underlying evidence the special counsel amassed over two years could prove as useful as a conspiracy charge to understanding the full scope of Russia’s election interference in 2016.

“As described by Barr, at least, Mueller’s report was very focused on criminal-law standards and processes,” said David Kris, a founder of Culper Partners, who served as the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s National Security Division under former President Barack Obama. “We won’t know for sure if that is the case, and if it is the case, why Mueller confined himself in that way, until we see the full report.” Kris noted, however, that “there is no question that a counterintelligence investigation would have a wider aperture than a strict criminal inquiry as applied here, and would be concerned, for example, with the motivations and any sub-criminal misconduct of the principal actors.”

A counterintelligence probe, he added, would ask more than whether the evidence collected is sufficient to obtain a criminal conviction—it could provide necessary information to the public about why the president is making certain policy decisions. “The American people rightly should expect more from their public servants than merely avoiding criminal liability,” Kris said.

A spokesman for the House Intelligence Committee said in a statement on Monday that in light of Barr’s memo “and our need to understand Special Counsel Mueller’s areas of inquiry and evidence his office uncovered, we are working in parallel with other Committees to bring in senior officials from the DOJ, FBI and SCO to ensure that our Committee is fully and currently informed about the SCO’s investigation, including all counterintelligence information.”

In May 2017, just after Trump fired former FBI Director James Comey, the FBI launched a full counterintelligence investigation into the president to determine whether he was acting as a Russian agent. “We were concerned, and we felt like we had credible, articulable facts to indicate that a threat to national security may exist,” former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe explained to me last month. It’s still not clear what became of that counterintelligence probe after Mueller was appointed, and Barr did not indicate in his four-page summary how far the special counsel pursued it.

Jeremy Bash, who served as chief of staff at the Defense Department and the CIA under Obama, said he believes Mueller’s “core focus” was to determine whether or not federal criminal laws were violated. “If Mueller interpreted his mandate as a criminal one, the decision to pursue the investigation as such is something he will have to explain to Congress,” Bash said.

Mueller’s mandate, given to him by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, empowered him to investigate not only any “coordination” between the campaign and Russia, but any “links” between them as well. Barr’s summary does not describe how Mueller investigated or came to explain the many interactions the campaign had with various Russians during the election.

Even so, Bash said, it’s an “immense challenge” to envision how a counterintelligence investigation targeting the president himself would have played out. “Normally, the bureau would investigate, and if criminal matters were involved, they’d ask prosecutors to get involved,” he said. “But if it is just a matter of there being a national-security threat, the FBI would report to the director of national intelligence, who would then report to the president. But what if the president is the threat? We don’t have a playbook for this.”

Generally speaking, the wide aperture afforded by a counterintelligence investigation might be key to understanding some of the biggest lingering mysteries of the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians in 2016—mysteries that, if solved, could explain the president’s continued deference toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and skepticism about his conduct on the part of the U.S. intelligence community.

For example, was the fact that Trump pursued a multimillion-dollar real-estate deal in Moscow during the election—and failed to disclose the deal to the public—enough for the Russians to compromise him? Why did the administration attempt to lift the sanctions on Russia early on in Trump’s tenure, even after it had been revealed that Russia had attacked the 2016 election? And what about the internal campaign polling data that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, gave to the suspected Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik in August 2016—an episode that, according to one of the top prosecutors on Mueller’s team, went “very much to the heart of what the special counsel’s office is investigating”?

Mueller apparently determined that none of that evidence was enough to establish that a criminal conspiracy had occurred, which is fairly unsurprising if you know Bob Mueller, said John McLaughlin, the former acting director of the CIA who served under former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. In criminal law, a conspiracy is an agreement between two or more persons to commit a crime.

Mueller “always noted that the term evidence meant something different to intelligence analysts who had to work with a variety of sources of varying reliability, whereas an FBI officer needed something so unassailable as to work in a court prosecution,” McLaughlin told me, referring to the conversations he had with Mueller while he was FBI director. But as former CIA Deputy Director Michael Morell, who now hosts the Intelligence Matters podcast, told me, “We still do not understand why President Trump has this affinity for Putin. What happened yesterday is Mueller took one possibility off the table—that there was a criminal conspiracy. But we still don’t know what is going on between these two leaders, and what is driving this relationship.”

It would once have been unthinkable to even contemplate that a sitting president was putting the interests of a hostile foreign power above those of the United States. But Trump’s consistent praise of Putin, his pursuit of a massive real-estate deal in Moscow while Russia was waging a hacking and disinformation campaign against the United States in 2016, and the secrecy that continues to surround his conversations with his Russian counterpart have given some in the national-security community, including many leading Democrats, pause.

Trump took the extraordinary step of confiscating his interpreter’s notes after his first private meeting with Putin in Hamburg, Germany, in 2017, according to The Washington Post, and demanded that the interpreter refrain from discussing the meeting with members of his own administration. In Helsinki, Finland, one year later, Trump insisted on meeting with Putin with no American advisers or aides present.

Frank Figliuzzi, a former assistant director for counterintelligence at the FBI, said he “never envisioned” that Mueller would bring a conspiracy charge—and that focusing on the absence of criminal indictments for conspiracy is unproductive. “If all we do is apply criminal standards to investigative findings, we are missing the point,” Figliuzzi told me. He noted that the vast majority of counterintelligence cases never result in criminal prosecution. Instead, he said, “they’re about determining the degree to which a foreign power has targeted, compromised, or recruited” the subject. “This thing started as a counterintelligence investigation,” Figliuzzi said, “and it needs to end as a counterintelligence investigation.”

We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to letters@theatlantic.com.

Natasha Bertrand is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where she covers national security and the intelligence community.

Can Thailand’s junta manage the election’s outcome?


26 March, 27, 2019

Can Thailand’s junta manage the election’s outcome?

by James Ockey, University of Canterbury

ttps://www.eastasiaforum.org/2019/03/20/can-thailands-junta-manage-the-elections-outcome/

For Thailand’s junta, the 2019 election is to be carefully managed so that the government can return to power with enhanced legitimacy, both among its own people and the international community. Yet the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) may have miscalculated its ability to control the elections effectively and so enhance its legitimacy.

Thailand's Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha talks with a man as he visits Lumphini Park ahead of the general election, in Bangkok, Thailand, 20 March 2019 (Photo: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun).

The constitution and electoral laws were carefully designed to disadvantage the two large parties, Pheu Thai and the Democrats. Meanwhile, the junta leaders are allowed to appoint the 250 senators who will join with elected MPs to choose the prime minister. The constitution also allowed junta leader Prayut Chan-o-cha to be nominated for prime minister without membership in a party. This gives him greater flexibility in seeking the additional 126 elected MPs whose support is necessary for him to remain in his current position.

While writing a favourable constitution and electoral laws proved possible, managing the campaign process is much more difficult. Yet strong efforts are being made. Elections are under the purview of the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT). PNet, an NGO that independently monitors the election process, recently awarded the ECT an ‘F’ grade for its performance, stating that it ‘has failed to demonstrate it is not under undue political influence’.

So far, the ETC has decided that a government handout to the elderly and the poor just prior to the beginning of campaigning did not violate election laws and that the pro-government Phalang Pracharat Party (PPRP) had not accepted illegal donations at a fundraiser. Most recently, it ruled that the prime minister could actively campaign with the party that nominated him (a step too far even for Prayut himself, who instead has chosen to follow the party on the campaign trail).

In contrast, in the case of the anti-government Thai Raksa Chart party, the ECT recommended dissolution without following its own procedures in a rush to judgement. The Constitutional Court would later follow that recommendation.

In January and February, I interviewed candidates from a range of parties, in all four regions of Thailand. None expressed any faith in the ECT. Candidates of pro-regime parties thought the ECT was ineffective. Candidates of anti-regime parties not only questioned the ECT’s capability, but also feared that it was focused on identifying any small violation of the law that would justify banning opposition candidates and parties.

Opposition parties also have to defend themselves from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC). The NBTC sought to shut down the opposition-oriented Voice TV for 15 days during the election, only to see the decision reversed by the courts. Other threats have come from criminal investigations, with leaders of the Future Forward party charged under the Computer Crime Act.

Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, attempts to manage the outcome of the election appear to have created a backlash against the regime. Recent polling done by the Nation newspaper shows the PPRP winning just 62 of 350 constituency seats, with the anti-regime Pheu Thai party winning 136. A recent rally of the PPRP in Korat drew just a few hundred supporters, leaving thousands of empty seats.

Perhaps more interesting are the results of a recent King Prajadhipok Institute poll, which indicate that 96 per cent of eligible voters intend to vote. One would not expect that level of enthusiasm if voters were happy with the government and the status quo.

Political parties also seem to be reacting to anti-government sentiment. The Democrat party, which is likely to win the second most seats after Pheu Thai, recently announced that it would not support the return of Prayut as prime minister. The Democrat Party had previously been deliberately ambiguous regarding its stance. It also set conditions for potential pro- and anti-government coalition partners.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Bhum Jai Thai (BJT) party leader Anuthin Charnvirakul stated that the party will wait for the outcome of the election before finalising its stance, so that it can take into account the voice of the people. BJT has long been considered to be firmly on the government side. Answering this way, even as a campaign tactic, indicates concerns with being seen as too firmly on the side of the junta.

Despite these indications of very limited support for the government, it is expected that the junta will continue to manage the outcome. In the interviews I conducted in January and February, academics and candidates suggested that the junta will expend resources to convince both small parties and individual MPs to join the pro-government side after the election, ensuring support will go well beyond the elected members of the PPRP.

One leading member of a large party noted that the ECT has 60 days to certify the results of the election. They raised concerns that during that period anti-government parties might be dissolved to ensure the junta remains in power.

While Prayut is likely to return to power, it will not be with the clear mandate he seeks. The manipulation of the elections to ensure his return is more likely to result in a decline in legitimacy and support at home, although even a manipulated election may help relieve international pressure to return to democracy. Under such circumstances, concerns about future government stability are likely to remain.

James Ockey is Associate Professor at the School of Language, Social and Political Sciences, University of Canterbury

 

 

Singapore: Indonesia’s Money Laundromat


March 26, 2019

Singapore: Indonesia’s Money Laundromat

By: John Berthelsen

https://www.asiasentinel.com/econ-business/singapore-indonesia-money-laundromat/

On March 18, Indonesia’s Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati announced that the country’s Directorate General of Taxation will go after Indonesian wealth parked overseas, saying data indicate Indonesians have illegally moved Rp1.3 quadrillion (US$91.3 billion) worth of assets outside of the country.

Image result for shenton way singapore

Sri Mulyani doesn’t have far to hunt, and multiple sources say her US$91 billion figure is a relatively paltry portion of the total. She can send her investigators to Singapore, an hour and 50 minutes away by any one of 35 flights a day, where, according to a 2014 Cornell University Southeast Asia Program study, at least 39,000 Indonesians worth US$4.1 million each were residing “semipermanently” and had stored non-home financial assets. The study put the total amount of Indonesian money in Singapore at a minimum of US$93 billion. According to one study, however, as much as an astonishing US$380 billion has been spirited out of Indonesia alone – 40 percent of Singapore’s total banking receipts.

Image result for 1mdb malaysia

Among the other dictators, crooks, strongmen and satraps who are believed to have deposits – or have had – in the Singaporean banking system are Zimbabwe’s 95-year-old former President Robert Mugabe, the late Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos, the jailed Taiwanese President Chen Shui Bian, the disgraced former French Budget Minister Jérôme Cahuzac, former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and many more.

On March 17, 2009 – a decade ago – this reporter was present when the Burmese junta leader Thein Sein, the head of what was then one of the world’s most repressive and poverty-stricken countries, flew into Singapore for a ceremony in which an orchid was named for him in the island republic’s magnificent botanical gardens. Another was named for Thein Sein’s wife. The common wisdom in Singapore is that the orchid honor was bestowed because of the amount of money Myanmar’s generals had laundered out of their benighted country and deposited in Singapore’s banks.

The volume of hot money that moves through Singapore’s banking system, unimpeded by the Monetary Authority of Singapore and protected by a comforting tangle of banking secrecy laws, seems at odds with the country’s public stance of incorruptibility. An attempt to fix a parking ticket would have the miscreant hauled off to jail.

The late Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, confronted in 1986 with corruption on the part of Housing Minister Teh Cheang Wan, who was integral in helping him transform the country from British colony, refused to look away. Teh committed suicide rather than face trial.

For decades, Indonesia has been in a half-hearted war to repatriate its money, at one point in 2007 blocking the delivery of Indonesian sand used to expand Singapore’s coastline in an effort to force the island nation to agree to an extradition treaty to get back bankers who stole US$13.5 billion from 48 ailing banks during the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis and moved the money into Singaporean banks. They have never succeeded.

In the 2008 global financial meltdown, Indonesia’s Century bank failed, with US$1.5 billion allegedly stolen by the bank’s president, Robert Tantular, according to lawsuits filed in Singapore and Mauritius. The Indonesian Bank Deposit Insurance Corporation, which is designed to provide an insurance cover for failing banks, allegedly poured in another US$750 million. In the end, the bank was recapitalized and renamed twice more, with massive fund flows out of the country again to Singapore. Tantular was prosecuted for the theft, but inexplicably was freed in December 2018 with half his time served, provoking a new investigation by the country’s Corruption Eradication Commission.

With global watchdogs increasingly cracking down on Switzerland, Singapore has become known as the go-to bolt hole for money flowing in from Cyprus, Russia, Dubai and Qatar. It is an emerging destination for private wealth management – a code word for hidden money. Its banks are known as among the safest in the world. It has never had a bank failure, although it shut down two Swiss subsidiaries during the mess created by Malaysia’s huge 1Malaysia Development Bank scandal.

As authorities have put pressure on Swiss authorities to open the doors to the alpine nation’s bank records, Singapore has developed its banking secrecy laws to protect money flows, blocking regulations developed by the 36-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development on publication of bank customer information. According to a 2017 Boston Consulting Group report, these tight banking secrecy laws had attracted as much as US$1.1 trillion in foreign funds into the banking system.

The access by less-than-respectable money seems to have reached its apex with the long-running 1MDB scandal, during which now-deposed Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and his confederate, Low Taek Jho, spirited billions of dollars through the Singaporean system. Najib famously moved US$681 million sent to him by Jho Low through the Kuala Lumpur-based Ambank in 2013, using part of the money to finance the successful 2013 election won by the Barisan Nasional, and then moved the remainder back out to subsidiaries of Swiss banks, both of which were suspended from doing business in Singapore.

The full story of the magnitude of theft from 1MDB and the money’s passage through Singaporean banks is told in two recent books, “The Billion-Dollar Whale by Wall Street Journal reporters Tom Wright and Bradley Hope, and The Inside Story of the 1MDB Expose by Clare Rewcastle Brown. Both books tell a ring-around-the-rosy story of billions of dollars that moved with impunity from a long string of shell companies set up in Caribbean hidey holes, zipping through the Singapore banking system without any problems until authorities in the United States and other jurisdictions started calling attention to the process.

As Brown writes, “Ironically, at a time when our ability to connect and communicate instantaneously should enable us through forensic accounting to track suspicious transactions and assure there is no hiding place for them, things have got worse, not better. As long as national legal systems are limited in their ability to monitor and supervise extra-territorial transactions, and as long as international cooperation remains ineffective and deficient, then sending money offshore will continue to deprive national treasuries of the revenues they need, leaving domestic populations worse off and in many cases impoverished,”

There is no better proof of that than the billions of dollars that have moved out of Indonesia, and the ease with which it has been hidden in Singapore or moved on to other obscure corners of the world.

 

WOMEN WHO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER


March 26, 2019

WOMEN WHO SPEAK TRUTH TO POWER

Press statement by Kua Kia Soong, SUARAM Adviser 26.3.19

Image result for malaysian maverick

The obsequious protestations by mainly male politicians over Nurul Izzah’s frank opinion about the Prime Minister in her Straits Times interview brings to mind my article last year: “Thank goodness for daughters!” (9 Jan 2018). At that time it was a breath of fresh air to read Sangeet Karpal’s critical statement on Pakatan Harapan’s endorsement of BN 2.0 with Malaysia’s infamous autocrat as their “interim Prime Minister.

She also pointed out that the leaders in the opposition had remained silent in the face of Mahathir’s recent hollow “apology” over his use of the ISA during his first term as PM. Then there was Anwar Ibrahim’s other daughter, Nurul Nuha who on 14 September 2016 felt she had to uphold her family’s dignity by demanding that former PM, Dr Mahathir apologise for ‘trumped up’ charges against her father. The men currently critiquing Nurul so loudly doth protest too much…

Is it not Malaysian to criticise the PM?

Some of these male politicians have spouted the old feudal argument by saying that Nurul Izzah should show more courtesy toward the Prime Minister. Really? If Malaysians want to learn about the correct etiquette with regard to respecting Prime Ministers, they should learn from the recalcitrant Dr. M himself! Didn’t he teach us the art of the surat layang when he wrote his piece against the Tunku during the May 13 crisis? It certainly was not “sopan santun” the way he slammed the “Father of Independence” on his way to political power.

And if the office of Prime Minister has to be so respected, why did Dr Mahathir proceed to humiliate and denigrate Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi after he had ascended the post in 2003 and to do the same against Prime Minister Najib Razak after 2009? Wasn’t it the only way to get rid of the Great Kleptocrat as Dr. M has reminded us? Let’s not forget that Dr. Mahathir does not respect prime ministers and presidents in other countries either and that was why the former Australian PM Paul Keating bequeathed Dr. M with the epithet “recalcitrant”.

Calling a spade a spade

Was Nurul Izzah wrong to refer to Dr. M as a former dictator?

Some young male politicians in PH may have been born after Dr. M left office in 2003, but they only need to talk to their older colleagues like the former leader of the Opposition and the PM-in-waiting himself to know that Dr. M was called worse things after 1998. Nurul Izzah and her siblings know this only too well. Or if these male politicians in PH are keen to learn, they can start reading all that was written about Dr. M during his first term as Prime Minister by writers such as K. Das, Barry Wain, Kua K.S. and others.

Image result for malaysian maverick

Whiffs of autocracy

Nurul Izzah has resigned from the PAC because Pakatan’s promised reform of having an Opposition MP chair the committee has been overruled by the PM. This is but the latest in a series of unilateral decisions by Dr. M since he took office in May 2018, including the plans to privatise Khazanah and to start another national car. The Cabinet will have to bear collective responsibility for the consequences in the event of its failure. We are witnessing the same “silence of the lambs” culture for which the DAP used to criticise the BN leaders under Mahathir 1.0 with the new ministers saying “We’ll leave it to the Prime Minister” and “I’ll discuss this with the prime minister to let him decide”, ad nauseum.

The PH manifesto prohibits the PM from also taking over the Finance portfolio but Dr Mahathir has in the 100 days taken over the choicest companies, namely Khazanah, PNB & Petronas under his PMO. It is the return to the old Mahathirist autocracy. The appointment of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Economic Affairs Minister Azmin Ali to the board of Khazanah Nasional Berhad also goes against the PH manifesto promise of keeping politicians out of publicly-funded investments since it leads to poor accountability. Only by insisting on boards being comprised of professionals and on rigorous parliamentary checks and balances for bodies such as Khazanah can we ensure a high level of transparency and accountability.

Mahathir’s response to this criticism was the old feudal justification: “I started Khazanah so why can’t I be in it?” In other words, “Stuff your high ideals and democratic principles!”

Image result for malaysia-singapore relations

What spat with Singapore?

 

Some of these male politicians have further claimed that Nurul Izzah should not have made her views known to a Singaporean newspaper because of our supposed “spat” with Singapore over the water agreement. Do we have “spats” with either Singapore or China or are these issues just another diversion created by Dr. M to cover up his unfulfilled reforms and failed economic policies?

Let us be clear. The 1962 water agreement between Singapore and Malaysia is sacrosanct just like all the other international agreements made with China and other countries. Dr M himself should be held responsible for failing to amend the agreement when we had the right to do so in 1987. In fact, this is another issue that he should apologise to Malaysians for. Malaysia’s current financial difficulties are strictly of our own doing and we cannot rely on other countries for alternative sources of revenue growth. Creating a “spat” over the water agreement is another vain attempt at creating a storm in a teacup out of a tired issue when the new administration should be doing its best to nurture good bilateral relations with all our neighbours in the region.

 

The importance of speaking truth to power

Malaysians in the “New Malaysia” need to value and practice “speaking truth to power”. Instead of criticising Nurul Izzah based on feudal obeisance to authority, let her be an example especially to the opportunistic men who have lost their principles and integrity. It means that we have to take a stand if we truly want reformasi and to challenge injustice and authoritarianism.

All it takes is courage, courage to stand for one’s convictions and not the courage to throw conviction out the window for personal gain or political opportunism. “Speaking truth to power” means believing deeply in what you say – it may not be popular. It means taking a risk, it means standing for something without fearing condemnation.

After witnessing these interventions by Karpal Singh’s daughter, Sangeet Karpal and Anwar Ibrahim’s daughters, Nurul Nuha and now Nurul Izzah at the critical junctures, I say again: Thank goodness for daughters. They have shown the male politicians that they have the gall to speak truth to power…

 

No photo description available.

 

 

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.

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/mar/25/william-barr-letter-mueller-report

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.

The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Joe Biden


March 25.2010

The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Joe Biden

Inside the political world, there is a common presumption that entering an elongated Democratic-primary contest will prove damaging to the former Vice-President Joe Biden, who is riding high in early opinion polls, and that, as the saying goes, the first day of his campaign may well be the best. Only time will tell if this prediction is right. But the events of this week have demonstrated that Biden is also exposing himself to hazards by standing on the edge and hesitating.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that Biden “has expressed concern” to associates “that he wouldn’t be able to raise millions of dollars in online donations immediately” as some of the other Democratic candidates, including the former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke and Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont, have. On Thursday, the Times reported that Biden and his advisers are thinking about announcing that Biden would only serve one term, an effort to frame his bid “as a one-time rescue mission for a beleaguered country.” The Times and Axios also reported that Team Biden is considering naming a Vice-Presidential candidate straight away, and that one of the people under consideration is Stacey Abrams, the Georgia politician who delivered the Democratic reply to January’s State of the Union address and was widely agreed to have aced it.

The message these stories send is that Biden is worried about various things: money, his age (he will turn seventy-seven later this year), and his ability to reach younger and more progressive voters. At least some of these worries may well be justified, but they aren’t the sort of thing that any Presidential contender wants amplified on the home pages of national newspapers, particularly a contender whose biggest assets are supposedly his likeability and electability. Assuming that Biden does intend to run, he needs to jump in and start making the case for himself, as other candidates have done. In an environment of heightened political activism, blanket media coverage, and ubiquitous social media, history doesn’t favor those who wait. And it certainly doesn’t favor he whose proto-campaign is already generating damaging stories.

If Biden does take the plunge, he will start out with at least two substantial advantages. Having faithfully served as Barack Obama’s wingman for eight years, he is widely liked among Democratic voters; his popularity extends across regions and racial groups. Moreover, Democrats desperately want to nominate someone who can beat Donald Trump, and Biden currently polls better than the other Democratic candidates in head-to-head matchups. An Emerson College survey that came out on Wednesday showed him defeating Trump by ten percentage points, fifty-five to forty-five. The matchups involving other Democrats, such as Kamala Harris and Bernie Sanders, were a lot closer.

Of course, the fact that Biden is polling well in March, 2019, doesn’t mean that he’s the best candidate to take on Trump in November, 2020. To win the nomination, he’ll need to prove his mettle on a daily basis, avoid the mistakes that plagued his two previous Presidential bids, and cast off some of the baggage he has acquired during his nearly fifty years in politics. (He entered his first electoral race, for New Castle County Council, in 1970.)

He could begin by saying sorry to Anita Hill for his role in the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings (he has said that he wished he could have done more to prevent other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee from hounding Hill but stopped short of issuing an apology); reiterating his contrition about the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which led to mass incarceration of minorities; and apologizing for some of the statements he made in the mid-seventies, when, as a freshman U.S. senator, he vigorously opposed school-busing. (A recent Washington Post article dug up a number of Biden quotes, including this one, from 1975: “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and . . . to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ ”)

Judging by some comments he made last weekend, Biden’s first instinct will be to defend his record and point to progressive positions he has adopted over the years, such as his support for public housing, labor unions, and expanding voting rights. He needs to go further. Democratic-primary voters know that Biden started out in a different era, but many of them will also want him to demonstrate that he embraces an environment in which there is zero tolerance for anything that smacks of sexism or racism.

Making such a gesture is the right thing to do, and it could help defuse some of the attacks that are sure to come. It’s a smarter play than immediately floating the idea of selecting Abrams as his running mate, talented though she is. As the Washington Post columnist Karen Tumulty pointed out, the Abrams story smacked of gimmickry, and it was also “presumptuous” of Biden’s advisers to assume that Abrams would accept the role of “acting as Biden’s human shield, constantly called upon to answer for his past positions on issues that put him at odds with African American and female voters.” (On Thursday, a spokesperson for Abrams issued a statement saying that she has met with more than a half-dozen Presidential contenders, and she “continues to keep all options on the table for 2020 and beyond.”)

To be sure, if Abrams doesn’t decide to enter the Presidential race on her own account, she could eventually be a potential running mate for a number of the other candidates, Biden included. Right now, though, the former Vice-President needs to stand on his own feet. He would do well to take the advice of his Delaware friend and colleague, Senator Chris Coons, who has called on him to make clear that he has the energy and determination to serve for two terms.

Whatever he does, Biden will be attacked from the left for being too centrist, too friendly with Republicans, and too in hock to financial interests headquartered in Delaware. These are substantive criticisms. Still, if he combines his defense of the Obama legacy with a populist economic agenda focussed on advancing the middle class—one that he has already embraced—he could be a formidable candidate. And despite being the front-runner in the polls, he could also benefit from being underestimated by pundits, many of whom expect him to falter. In any case, though, he needs to get in there. Enough of the “Hamlet” act.

  • John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He also writes a column about politics, economics, and more for newyorker.com.

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