WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans and the Trump administration want to move on from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, now that a redacted version of the report has been released to the public.
But Democrats are just getting started.
President Trump’s Attorney General William Barr offered a robust defense of the president Thursday morning ahead of the highly anticipated public release of the 448-page redacted report detailing the findings of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Republican lawmakers were quick to call for Congress to drop the matter.
“I applaud Attorney General Barr releasing the Mueller report for the American people to read and make up their own mind. It’s time to put this collusion delusion aside and work together in the best interest of the American people,” Florida Republican Rep. Ross Spano said in a statement issued under embargo before the report’s release.
North Carolina Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx said, the “report shows that the facts do not bear out the accusations against the president. That truth should unite all of us to move forward, but Democrats decided long ago that they can’t accept the truth unless it can further their agenda of impeachment.”
But the fight over the report and its findings is nowhere near over, as Democrats continue to question the attorney general’s motives and demand more scrutiny of Trump’s behavior and the report’s findings. Top Democrats in both the House and Senate accuse the administration of spinning the findings ahead of the reports release, and they’re calling for Mueller to testify before Congress as soon as possible.
Barr spoke to reporters this morning at the Justice Department, where he defended Trump’s motives and reiterated findings of “no collusion” between Trump’s campaign and Russians interfering in the election.
The bottom line, Barr said, is: “After nearly two years of investigation, thousands of subpoenas, hundreds of warrants and witness interviews, the special counsel confirmed that the Russian government sponsored efforts to illegally interfere with the 2016 presidential election, but did not find that the Trump campaign or other Americans colluded in those efforts.”
The attorney general noted that Mueller’s report “recounts 10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting those activities to the elements of an obstruction offense.”
According to Barr’s four-page summary of the report released in March, Mueller declined to draw a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice, saying that while his report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Barr said Thursday that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein “concluded that the evidence developed by the special counsel is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction of justice offense.” Barr added that he and Rosenstein “disagreed with some of the special counsel’s legal theories and felt that some of the episodes examined did not amount to obstruction as a matter of law.”
The attorney general went on to defend Trump’s behavior, given the “unprecedented situation” he faced when he took office, citing scrutiny of his conduct by federal prosecutors and “relentless speculation in the news media” about Trump’s culpability.
Barr said that Trump, despite his frustrations and anger, “took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
But Trump’s critics, including congressional Democrats, aren’t satisfied.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) sent a letter to Mueller just after Barr’s press conference concluded, asking him to testify.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” Nadler wrote on Twitter. He wants Mueller to appear before his committee “as soon as possible.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also released a joint statement Thursday calling for Mueller to testify in both chambers of Congress.
“Attorney General Barr’s regrettably partisan handling of the Mueller report, including his slanted March 24th summary letter, his irresponsible testimony before Congress last week, and his indefensible plan to spin the report in a press conference later this morning — hours before he allows the public or Congress to see it — have resulted in a crisis of confidence in his independence and impartiality,” they wrote.
“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible.”
Barr told reporters during the news conference he had no objection to Mueller testifying about his investigation to Congress.
Maryland lawmakers started reacting to the release early in the day.
After Barr’s press conference, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Maryland) wrote on Facebook, “That was quite a spin job from Attorney General Barr on a report he has allowed no one but the White House to read so far. Just like when I questioned him under oath, he wanted to make it clear that he believes President Trump wasn’t guilty of obstruction of justice — but refuses to give us the facts to back that up.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-8th) on Twitter also criticized Barr’s press conference before the report’s release. “Barr is acting like a paid federal defender here. He knows that this is not up to him—it’s up to Congress now,” Raskin tweeted.
The only Republican member of the Maryland’s Capitol Hill delegation, Rep. Andrew P. Harris (R), released a statement on Twitter shortly after the press conference, describing the report as two years of wasted time, energy and money. He reiterated that the special counsel did not reach a conclusion on obstruction of justice and that Barr concluded there was not enough evidence to establish an obstruction-of-justice offense. “It’s time we move on from partisan politics to issues Americans truly care about, like securing our border, addressing the opioid crisis, and continuing to grow our economy,” Harris wrote.
Several members of the Maryland delegation said Mueller should immediately testify before Congress, including Rep. David Trone (D-6th) who said lawmakers need to hear directly from Mueller “to determine what norms of acceptable conduct were violated by anyone involved.”
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-7th), chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, said Congress needed to continue to dig for more information.
“The President and his Attorney General expect the American people to be blind to what we can now see. This report [catalogs] in excruciating detail a proliferation of lies by the President to the American people, as well as his incessant and repeated efforts to encourage others to lie,” Cummings said in a statement. “Contrary to Attorney General Barr’s attempts at misdirection, it is crystal clear from the report that the Justice Department’s policy against indicting a sitting President played a key role in Special Counsel Mueller’s analysis — in fact, it is the very first point in the obstruction section of his report. Unfortunately, we still have only part of the story, and Congress must subpoena the full report and all underlying documents.”
Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-2nd) said the report “provided Congress with plenty of ammunition,” and that more congressional inquiry is warranted.
“Aside from the investigations into collusion and obstruction, the report describes, in vivid detail, conduct that – even if legal – runs roughshod over the ethical and moral standards we set for our President,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “…I encourage all Americans to read the report – especially the sections regarding obstruction of justice – so they can determine for themselves if the behavior described in this report is becoming of a United States President.”
U.S. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.), in an interview with Maryland Matters, also said people should read it for themselves, instead of relying on the interpretations of Barr, the president or even himself. “The report is extremely important for the American people to read,” Cardin said. “… Draw your own conclusions. There are very important conclusions in the Mueller report.”
The report makes clear that it is “critically important” for Congress to act to protect American elections from future Russian interference and Cardin called the description of possible instances of obstruction “troublesome.”
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-4th) said “nothing we learned today exonerates President Trump,” but the report served to highlight “a number of troubling issues, attempts to obstruct justice, and additional criminal investigations that have yet to be made public.”
“It is extremely alarming that the President’s associates lied to the Special Counsel and to Congress, and ‘materially impaired’ the investigation into Russian interference,” Brown said in a statement. “All of this must be fully scrutinized and investigated by Congress until the American people are confident they know exactly what happened, and how we will prevent it from ever happening again.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-5th) noted the report’s statement that Russia “interfered in the 2016 presidential election in a sweeping and systematic fashion.”
“With this report’s release, we can confirm that U.S. individuals took actions that helped Russia undermine the United States and its government. President Trump and his associates continue to minimize or deny Russian efforts to undermine our democracy, and actions they have taken have sown the kind of divisions that Russia has sought to exploit in order to weaken our country,” Hoyer said in a statement. “Now, it is up to Congress to make sure that those who have done President Putin’s work are held fully accountable.”
He thanked Mueller and his team for their service, but also said Mueller should testify before Congress. “The truth must be uncovered, justice must be served and accountability must be assured,” Hoyer said.
On CNN, the majority leader said while hearings are necessary, he doesn’t support moving forward with impeachment hearings right now.
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment,” Hoyer told CNN.
Danielle E. Gaines contributed to this report.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include additional comments from Maryland lawmakers.
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