WASHINGTON — The stunning announcement that President Trump’s Russia-gate scandal was all but over came in a single sentence.
“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.”
That was Attorney General William P. Barr’s central finding in a four-page summary of special counsel Robert S. Mueller’s two-year investigation into Russia’s sweeping interference in that election by a Kremlin cyberwar army that bombarded the U.S. internet with phony, incendiary stories to help elect Trump.
The president immediately embraced Mueller’s finding as a “total exoneration,” even though Barr reported that the veteran prosecutor reached no such conclusion.
On the issue of “obstruction of justice,” Barr said, “the special counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”
Undoubtedly, Mueller and Barr will be questioned about Mueller’s seemingly contradictory statement about obstruction of justice when the Democratic-run House Judiciary Committee, and other panels, eventually hold hearings on the special prosecutor’s report.
Others, however, have already begun to weigh in on the issue raised in the report.
Trump’s former personal lawyer, John Dowd, told Fox News Radio that it was “unprofessional” for Mueller “not to have made a clear determination that Trump should not be prosecuted for obstruction of justice,” The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Barr pointed out in his summary that many, if not most, of Trump’s actions “took place in public view,” and that Mueller “recognized that ‘the evidence does not establish that the president was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference.’”
That, Barr wrote, “bears upon the president’s intent with respect to obstruction.”
But that is an argument the attorney general will have to explain to committees in both houses of Congress before the Mueller report is laid to rest.
Meantime, in the wake of Mueller’s report, House Democrats “conceded Monday that the possibility of impeachment proceedings against Trump is over, at least for now,” the Post reported.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, after a Monday night Democratic strategy meeting, said there was too much focus on the Russia issue, which was drawing attention away from the party’s agenda.
“We need to focus on ... the promises we made during the campaign,” said Democratic Rep. David N. Cicilline of Rhode Island, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
That seemed to be the position among Republicans, too.
Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Mitt Romney of Utah, among others, said any further talk of impeachment should end in the wake of Mueller’s report.
“Certainly, with regards to Russia, interference or collaboration with the Trump campaign or the president himself, that issue is taken off the table,” Romney told reporters Monday.
Romney also agreed with Barr’s argument about the obstruction of justice charge raised against Trump in the Mueller report.
“The attorney general pointed out the obvious, which is, if there’s no underlying crime, it’s very difficult to make a case for an obstruction of justice looking into the absence of a crime,” he said.
But one major part of Mueller’s exhaustive investigation should not be laid aside, and that is Vladimir Putin’s war on our presidential elections.
Congress needs to reopen that scandal, bring in the leadership of our major intelligence agencies, as well the Russian participants who created the fake stories that were injected into the bloodstream of America’s social media to influence our elections and voters.
The CBS program “60 Minutes” interviewed some of them on the air, telling viewers how Russia operated an immense operation to hoodwink America’s electorate.
Putin got away with it, and he’s planning to do it again in 2020.