Special counsel Robert Mueller found that neither Donald Trump nor any of his aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, according to a letter delivered to Congress on Sunday by the US attorney general.
The letter from William Barr also revealed Mueller was unable to draw a conclusion “one way or the other” on whether Trump or anyone in the White House obstructed justice during the investigation.
Barr quoted directly from Mueller’s report which states, with regards to obstruction: “While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
Mueller has filed no further indictments following an almost two-year investigation that has seen some of Trump’s closest advisers criminally prosecuted and convicted.
As Mueller was unable to draw a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice, it was left to Barr and the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, both appointed by Trump, to decide not to pursue charges.
Barr described the evidence for obstruction as “not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense”. Furthermore, Barr insisted in his letter the decision not to prosecute was not made based on any limitations related to the indictment of a sitting president.
At just four pages long, the letter offered a small snapshot of Mueller’s extensive investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, which the letter reveals involved more than 2,800 subpoenas, almost 500 search warrants and interviews with about 500 witnesses.
The attorney general faces increasingly bipartisan calls to release the Mueller report in full, as well as the evidence underlying it. Some Democrats have signaled they will use subpoena powers to obtain the full document, and may also call Mueller to testify before Congress.
Barr made clear he is prepared to release some parts of the report due to “the public interest in this matter”. He also pledged to consult with Mueller to quickly identify parts of the report that should be made public. But the attorney general did not specify how much will be released and is likely to be impeded, at least in part, by continuing justice department investigations in New York that involve Trump.
Immediately after the letter was released the New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House judiciary committee, vowed to bring Barr before his panel. Nadler cited the decision not to pursue obstruction of justice as evidence of “very concerning discrepancies and final decision making at the justice department”.
Nonetheless, the summary was immediately seized on by Trump and his allies to claim victory.
Speaking to reporters as he returned from a weekend of golf at his private club in south Florida, a jubilant president described the report as “a complete and total exoneration” – despite the inconclusive findings on obstruction of justice.
No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 24, 2019
“It’s a shame that our country had to go through this, to be honest it’s a shame that your president has had to go through this for, before I even got elected it began,” Trump said, from the tarmac by Air Force One. “This was an illegal take-down that failed.”
In an emailed statement to the Guardian, the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr, himself at the centre of the investigation after accepting a June 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer promising “dirt” on the Clinton campaign, said Barr’s letter proved “what those of us with sane minds have known all along, there was ZERO collusion with Russia”.
Trump Jr continued: “Sadly, instead of apologizing for needlessly destabilizing the country in a transparent attempt to delegitimize the 2016 election, it’s clear that the Collusion Truthers in the media and the Democrat [sic] party are only going to double down on their sick and twisted conspiracy theories moving forward.”
Photograph: Carolyn Kaster/AP
It seems likely the president will now seek to turn the Mueller investigation to his advantage in the 2020 presidential election, suggesting it shows he won the 2016 contest fairly and that desperate opponents will do anything to thwart him.
But the decision by Barr and Rosenstein that the president did not obstruct justice – and their decision to make any such conclusion rather than leave it to Congress – is likely to cause intense controversy for years to come.
Michael Cohen, confidant and adviser to Donald Trump
Pleaded guilty to bank fraud, tax fraud and campaign finance violations. Separately pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a plan to build a Trump tower in Moscow.
Sentenced to 36 months in prison.
Paul Manafort, Trump campaign chairman
Pleaded guilty to conspiring to defraud the US and conspiring to obstruct justice.
Sentenced to seven and half years in prison.
Alexander van der Zwaan, Dutch lawyer who worked with Manafort
Pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.
Sentenced to 30 days in prison, fined $20,000, has since been deported.
George Papadopoulos, foreign policy adviser to Trump 2016 campaign
Pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the timing of meetings with alleged go-betweens for Russia.
Sentenced to 14 days in prison, 200 hours community service, fined $9,500.
Richard Pinedo, online fraudster
Pleaded guilty to identity fraud.
Sentenced to six months in prison and six months home detention.
Michael Flynn, National security adviser to President Trump
Pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about contacts with Russia during the presidential transition in 2016.
Rick Gates, Manafort business partner and Trump campaign official
Pleaded guilty to conspiring against the US and lying to the FBI and admitted helping Manafort doctor financial statements, hide sources of foreign income, mislead banks to get loans and cheat on his US taxes.
Roger Stone, longtime Trump associate
Charged with obstruction, witness tampering and making false statements.
13 Russian nationals and 3 entities, social media trolls
Charged with using fake social media accounts to influence the 2016 election, but unlikely to ever come to the US to stand trial.
12 Russian military intelligence officers, hackers
A dozen named members of the Russian military intelligence unit GRU charged with hacking John Podesta. There is no prospect of them being brought to justice.
Konstantin Kilimnik, ran Kyiv office of a Manafort company
Charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Not in custody and has not answered the charges.
Barr was nominated by Trump to be attorney general after he sent the justice department a private memo sharply criticising Mueller’s investigation and arguing that the special counsel should even not be allowed to question Trump about potential obstruction.
Trump did not sit down for an interview with Mueller, instead providing written answers to questions.
In May 2017, it was Rosenstein who wrote the memo to Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, justifying the firing of James Comey, the FBI director. Trump’s firing of Comey was central to allegations that he may have obstructed justice.
The fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe has claimed Rosenstein said he was ordered to write that memo.
In a joint statement, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, and Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, the senior Democrats in Congress, argued Barr’s letter raised “as many questions as it answers”.
“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,” they said.
“Congress requires the full report and the underlying documents so that the committees can proceed with their independent work, including oversight and legislating to address any issues the Mueller report may raise. The American people have a right to know.”
Other Democrats, including Congressman Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence committee, called for the report to be made public.
Senator and presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, wrote: “The Mueller report needs to be made public, the underlying investigative materials should be handed over to Congress, and Barr must testify. That is what transparency looks like. A short letter from Trump’s hand-picked Attorney General is not sufficient.”
Additional reporting by Ben Jacobs in Washington