The investigation, led by Robert Mueller, who was appointed in May 2017 following President Donald Trump’s abrupt firing of then-FBI Director James Comey, is over. So what have we learned?
1. Investigators failed to prove the Trump campaign colluded with Russian actors to win the presidency
This is the top-line finding of the report, as summarized by the attorney general, which comes as good news to Trump and members of his 2016 campaign. According to Barr, the special counsel’s investigators gathered insufficient evidence to establish coordination between Trump officials and Russians to sway the 2016 election.
The president has already taken to Twitter in celebration of the news:
However, it’s important to note that Mueller’s report, as summarized by Barr, merely says investigators gathered insufficient evidence to prove collusion occurred. This is merely a finding of prosecutorial discretion, leaving open the possibility that collusion occurred but could not be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the legal standard for criminal conviction.
The president is wrong to claim the report offers a “Complete and Total EXONERATION,” especially in regard to potential obstruction of justice, where Mueller’s findings may be a bit less clear-cut. But things are certainly looking up for Trump and his team, who no longer have to contend with the special counsel’s invasive probe.
2. Barr says no proof of obstruction of justice, but Mueller is noncommittal
Barr’s summary of the report says the special counsel makes no conclusion as to whether Trump obstructed justice in attempting to interfere with the investigation.
Barr, with the concurrence of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, however, goes a step further. In his summary, the attorney general evaluates the evidence collected by the special counsel. In this analysis, Barr concludes Mueller’s team did not meet the standard necessary to charge the president with obstruction of justice.
The subtle difference between Mueller’s noncommittal stance and Barr and Rosenstein’s definitive judgement is crucial — and likely to become the center of House Democrats’ efforts to secure the release of the special counsel’s full report.
The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee weighed in on Twitter:
The special counsel’s findings on obstruction of justice, it seems, are not quite as positive, from Trump’s perspective, as the investigators’ conclusion on collusion. The conversation regarding potential obstruction of justice will continue.
3. Peripheral investigations, referred by Mueller to other prosecutors, will continue
Originally, Mueller and his team were tasked with investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which necessitated pursuing a few tangential matters regarding Trump campaign officials’ alleged criminality in other areas.
This led to the charging of six Trump associates with crimes, five of whom have been convicted or pleaded guilty. These offenses range from lying to Congress and FBI agents to committing financial fraud and campaign finance violations.
Some matters were referred to prosecutors outside Mueller’s core team. According to the New York Times, “federal and state prosecutors are pursuing about a dozen other investigations” that grew out of the special counsel’s initial inquiry. These cases may still prove legally problematic for the Trump presidency’s inner cohort.
Most notably, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York will continue their investigation into hush-money payments made by Michael Cohen, the president’s former lawyer, in the run-up to the 2016 election.
These payments, one to a porn star and another to a Playboy model, allegedly bought the silence of two of Trump’s paramours. Because the payments directly benefited the Trump campaign, and were not reported on official campaign finance disclosure forms, they seem to have violated federal law.
Cohen has directly implicated the president in his illegal acts. If he is telling the truth, Trump’s legal woes are far from over. ■