A jubilant President Donald Trump on Monday praised special counsel Robert Mueller while fuming Democrats demanded the full release of his report on Russian election meddling, which is said to have cleared Trump of collusion with Moscow but not of possible obstruction of American justice.
Speaking at the White House, Trump affirmed that Mueller had acted honorably and that his conclusion was “100 percent the way it should have gone.”
For nearly two years, Trump had repeatedly blasted the special counsel probe as a “witch hunt.” With the investigation complete, the president said, “We can never, ever let this happen to another president again.”
On Sunday, Attorney General William Barr released a summary of Mueller’s findings from the exhaustive, 22-month probe, which led to dozens of indictments as well as guilty pleas from some of Trump’s closest former associates.
In a letter to congressional leaders, Barr said Mueller concluded that Russia unquestionably meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, but that Trump and his campaign did not conspire with Moscow to help him win the White House.
On the question of obstruction, however, Barr wrote, “The report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” On that basis, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein decided that charges against Trump were not warranted.
Reaction from lawmakers
On Capitol Hill, lawmakers had sharply differing reactions.
“For the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said in a joint statement.
The Democratic leaders added: “Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers. The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay.”
Democratic Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware said on CNN, “Mueller’s report, at the least the summary that we’ve gotten from Barr, leaves wide open both the question of obstruction, and I think, makes it clear that other investigations should proceed.”
By contrast, Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn urged Congress “to move on,” and that “the worst thing we could do is to get bogged down in a relitigation of all of these issues.”
At the same time, Cornyn urged the release of as much of the Mueller report as possible, consistent with Justice Department regulations and U.S. law. He also called for a review of steps taken by federal officials in launching the Russia investigation.
On Monday, Schumer urged a Senate vote on a resolution calling for the release of Mueller’s full report. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, objected, saying Barr must be given time to determine which portions of the report can be divulged without revealing classified information.
But the six chairs of committees in the Democratically controlled House sent Barr a letter Monday, demanding he turn over the full Mueller report by April 2. They also told Barr to start handing over all evidence the special counsel used to write the report.
The six Democratic leaders — five men and one woman — say Barr’s four-page summary is not sufficient for Congress to do its work. They also say Congress needs to make an independent assessment of the evidence regarding Trumps alleged obstruction of justice.
Meantime, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said he hopes Barr will testify before his panel.
Graham also promised Monday to “unpack the other side of the story” of the Mueller investigation and will look into how the Justice Department started it.
During the investigation, many Democrats repeatedly stated their belief that Trump’s inner circle did collude with Russia and that the president later sought to evade justice — pronouncements that did not go unnoticed by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
“It’s hard to obstruct a crime that never took place,” Sanders told CNN. “The Democrats and the liberal media owe the president, and they owe the American people, an apology. They wasted two years and created a massive disruption and distraction from things that impact people’s everyday lives.”
Mueller charged 25 Russians with election interference, although they are unlikely to stand trial because the United States and Russia do not have an extradition treaty.
He also has secured guilty pleas or won convictions for a variety of offenses against six Trump aides and advisers, including the president’s one-time campaign manager, Paul Manafort; his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn; and his longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen.
Barr’s summary noted that Mueller had 19 lawyers and 40 FBI agents working with him on the investigation, issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, talked to about 500 witnesses and carried out nearly 500 search warrants.
Michael Bowman on Capitol Hill contributed to this report.