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.

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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 …

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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.

    https://www.newyorker.com

Hun Sen addresses ousting of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970


March 23,2019

Hun Sen addresses ousting of Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970

by Ben Sokhean.www.khmer times.com

Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday said that it was Khmer Republic President Marshal Lon Nol and his allies that ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970.

During the height of the US’ war in Vietnam, members of the National Assembly voted to remove Prince Sihanouk from power as he was in Moscow, forcing him to create a government in exile in Beijing. They then appointed Marshal Lon Nol as President of the Khmer Republic.

Mr Hun Sen yesterday during a graduation ceremony said the ousting of Prince Sihanouk was a result of Cambodian leaders colluding with foreigners, referring to the United States.

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Prime Minister Hun Sen says Lon Nol conspired to oust Prince Sihanouk.

“Even though there was a push from foreigners in 1970, had Lon Nol, Sisowath Sirik Matak […] not conspired to push for war and a takeover, the coup would not have occurred,” he said. “Whether the coup would succeed or not depended on internal factors.”

Lon Rith, son of Marshal Nol, on Wednesday during a Cross-Talk discussion with Khmer Times said the removal of Prince Sihanouk was a National Assembly decision.

“It was not [my father’s] decision, it was the decision of the National Assembly and the Cambodian people,” Mr Rith said. “They were no longer confident in Prince Sihanouk.”

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The US embassy in Phnom Penh has denied ever being involved in a coup in Cambodia and accused China of supporting Pol Pot’s brutal Khmer Rouge regime.

The Chinese embassy responded by accusing the CIA of being involved in the removal of Prince Sihanouk from power.

Paul Chambers, lecturer at Naresuan University’s College of Asean Community Studies, yesterday said the CIA was very much involved in the ousting of Prince Sihanouk.

“The National Assembly voted to depose Sihanouk, allowing Lon Nol to assume power, but this was a mere post-facto formality,” Mr Chambers said, adding that Marshal Nol worked with Prince Sirik Matak to arrest Prince Sihanouk’s in-law, Oum Mannorine, on “trumped up charges”.

“With Oum Mannorine arrested, Lon Nol and Sirik Matak could control the armed forces,” he said. “Ultimately, blame for the coup falls on the feet of the US Central Intelligence Agency which had been plotting for years the overthrow or assassination of Sihanouk. The CIA code name for the 1970 coup operation in Cambodia was ‘Operation Sunshine Park’.”

Ou Chanrath, a former opposition party lawmaker, yesterday said regardless of who was behind the ousting of the prince, the Kingdom has yet to form a national consensus on the matter.

“It is a historic issue, we cannot say who is right or who is wrong,” Mr Chanrath said. “We are not clear whether the US was really behind the coup, but they did strongly support Lon Nol’s government later.”

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