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Hill Dems search for opening on Mueller report, Republicans see closure

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler tweeted that he intends to call Attorney General William Barr to testify before Congress. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Mueller Report

Members of Congress are choosing which of the special counsel’s conclusions to promote.

Updated

Special counsel Robert Mueller appeared to refute claims that President Donald Trump’s associates conspired with Russian operatives to interfere in the 2016 election, a blow to House Democrats who just launched a sprawling investigative offensive to dig up new evidence of wrongdoing by the president.

But Democrats swiftly raised doubts on Sunday about Attorney General William Barr’s judgment that Trump should not be prosecuted for obstruction of justice, noting that his determination conflicted with that of Mueller, who explicitly declined to exonerate Trump of the crime.

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“It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the President in under 48 hours,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) said in a joint statement.

While Trump and his allies in Congress declared “total exoneration” after Barr delivered his initial summary of the investigation to lawmakers, Nadler promised to quickly call Barr to testify before his committee.

“His conclusions raise more questions than they answer,” Nadler said of Barr’s four-page memo to the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate Judiciary committees, adding: “We cannot simply rely on what may be a hasty, partisan interpretation of the facts.”

Nadler’s vow was part of a broader Democratic offensive against the attorney general, contending that the Trump appointee could not be trusted to fairly summarize Mueller’s conclusions.

“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement.

Their statement captured a growing angst among Democrats who have demanded to see Mueller’s report itself and the mountains of underlying evidence he relied on to reach his conclusions. House Democrats in particular are seeking to use that evidence as part of their own investigations into the president, centering on allegations of obstruction of justice, abuses of power and corruption.

As Democrats digested the revelation that Mueller lacked evidence to establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, they increasingly noted that it was being delivered through Barr’s filter, not from Mueller himself.

“Just a reminder that the President fired the last Attorney General so he could find someone to be his ‘Roy Cohn,’” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a Judiciary Committee member, tweeted, referring to the late lawyer whose take-no-prisoners approach served as a model for Trump.

At the same time, Democrats felt emboldened by the revelation that Mueller found at least some evidence to support claims that Trump obstructed the investigation into his campaign’s contacts with Russian operatives, which officially concluded on Friday.

“This is an incredible statement regarding a sitting president. It is an absolute necessity for Congress to continue our independent investigations,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), referring to the House Judiciary Committee’s wide-ranging investigation into allegations of obstruction of justice against the president.

Mueller’s decision to not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice left Democrats an opening — and a justification — for one of their highest-profile investigations, even as Barr explained in his memo to congressional leaders that Mueller identified “no actions that, in our judgment, constitute obstructive conduct, had a nexus to a pending or contemplated proceeding, and were done with corrupt intent.”

“The special counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,’” Barr wrote, adding that the special counsel’s report “leaves unresolved” whether Trump’s “actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction.”

Robert Mueller

Republicans quickly piled on their counterparts, insisting that Barr’s summary of Mueller’s findings should bring a swift end to Democrats’ investigations into Trump’s conduct.

“Chairman Nadler has the chance to rethink his sprawling investigation, which retreads ground already covered by the special counsel and is already a matter of public record,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “I hope he recognizes that what may be political fodder for Democrats may not be good for our country.”

The Republican National Committee went even further, demanding that Democrats stop investigating the president altogether.

“Now that this investigation is over, Democrats need to finally end their baseless investigations and political crusade against President Trump for the good of the country,” RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said.

Nadler said Trump’s claim of “total exoneration” was disingenuous given that the special counsel specifically said his report “does not exonerate” the president.

“It is unconscionable that President Trump would try to spin the special counsel’s findings as if his conduct was remotely acceptable,” Nadler said.

President Trump responds to findings in Mueller report

Barr described a deeply thorough investigation on Mueller’s part, telling lawmakers that the special counsel issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed around 500 search warrants and interviewed 500 witnesses.

Mueller, he noted, was unable to establish that “members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.”

Importantly, Barr said it was this determination that contributed to his decision to refrain from concluding that Trump obstructed justice. Because Trump was not implicated in the underlying crime of conspiring with Russia, Barr said, it was more difficult to conclude that he intended to obstruct an investigation into his conduct.

Democrats renewed their calls on Sunday for Barr to hand over all of the evidence uncovered during the course of Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation, so that lawmakers can use it for their own probes apart from the criminal investigation that Mueller oversaw. In addition to the Judiciary Committee, the House Intelligence Committee is conducting a separate investigation targeting Trump’s business dealings in Russia.

An additional wrench for Democrats was that Barr emphasized that his own conclusion that Trump’s actions did not constitute obstruction of justice was not based on Justice Department guidelines that prohibit the indictment of a president. Rather, he said, the underlying facts fell short of meeting the legal burden of proof.

Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.

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