The Wait for the Mueller Report Is Over. The Debate Isn’t

After issuing 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, and conducting as many witness interviews, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was made public Thursday. But while the report concluded there wasn’t enough evidence to say President Trump and his campaign team colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election, it did not completely exonerate them of committing a crime.

Attorney General William Barr held a press conference ahead of the release of the 448-page document, but Mueller was notably absent from the podium and there are no indications he, nor any other Department of Justice officials, will hold another press conference after we have all had time to read through the volumes of text.

During the briefing, Barr repeated Trump’s numerous claims in the past 22 months that there was “no collusion” and said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had concluded there was no obstruction of justice by the president or his campaign team and no charges would be brought as a result.

Barr said he and Rosenstein disagreed with some of Mueller’s conclusions on that matter, but would not specify which points were contested or why. He also noted the unredacted report would be released to certain members of the intelligence community only, but the redacted version had been shown to the president’s lawyers even before Congress had a full copy.

If you don’t want to sift through the hundreds of pages of the Mueller report, here’s what you should know.

The Mueller Report Is Not a Full Exoneration

The special counsel’s team had investigated 10 possible instances of obstruction of justice.

Mueller wrote in the report: “The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

The special counsel also concluded the campaign team had expected to benefit from Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the report stated.

Barr was prepared for that point to be raised and addressed in the press conference by providing a qualifier about any interactions between the campaign team and Wikileaks.

The Attorney General pointed out while the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s emails in 2016, done by the Russian company innocuously called the Internet Research Agency, was a crime, Wikileaks publishing those emails was not.

“Under applicable law, publication of these types of materials would not be criminal unless the publisher also participated in the underlying hacking conspiracy,” Barr said, meaning that even if the president and his staff had colluded with Wikileaks, it would not be criminal. The report indicated there was no evidence the president or campaign staff did anything illegal when it came to disseminating the emails.

Though Mueller also said several Russian officials had reached out to Trump staff during the course of the campaign for “business connections, offers of assistance to the Campaign, invitations for candidate Trump and Putin to meet in person, invitations for Campaign officials and representatives of the Russian government to meet, and policy positions seeking improved U.S.-Russian relations,” none of what the campaign staff did would be considered collusion per federal law standards.

Trump Did Attempt to Stop the Mueller Investigation

The Mueller report may have supported, at least partially, the president’s claims of innocence regarding collusion, but it showed he was worried about Mueller’s appointment to lead the investigation and attempted to thwart it.

When former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had to recuse himself from involvement in the investigation due to his role on the 2016 campaign team, notified the president, Trump said: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f***ed.”

The president had just fired former FBI director James Comey and turned his ire towards Sessions who was, in Trump’s estimation, “supposed to protect me.” Sessions, according to the report, walked around the White House with a resignation letter ready to go and was eventually dismissed following the November 2018 midterm elections.

“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” the report noted Trump had said at the time.

The president then turned to Don McGahn, former White House counsel who left his post in October 2018, and said “Mueller has to go.” He instructed McGahn to call Rosenstein and tell the deputy Mueller “has conflicts” and cannot be appointed special counsel.

Word soon leaked to the media of the president’s repeated attempts to unseat Mueller and he then asked McGahn to parrot his infamous line by calling them “fake news.”

The report stated, however, “each time he was approached, McGahn responded that he would not refute the press accounts because they were accurate in reporting on the President’s efforts to have the Special Counsel removed.”

We also know Mueller had made repeated attempts to interview the president since December 2017 but had stopped short of issuing a subpoena, fearing a lengthy court battle.

The president and his legal team eventually submitted written answers to questions in which the Trump said he did not recall instances of interactions with Russians 37 times, according to The Hill.

Mueller called the president’s responses “incomplete or imprecise” and concluded in the report the answers “demonstrate the inadequacy of the written format, as we have had no opportunity to ask follow-up questions that would ensure complete answers and potentially refresh your client’s recollection.”

What Happens Next

Naturally, the DNC had a bold statement on the matter, calling the report evidence of “bottomless corruption,” according to Chairman Tom Perez, who added the president “has spent his entire presidency engaged in a nonstop campaign of obstruction, intimidation, and abuse of power. No one is above the law.”

However, what happens next is still to be determined by Democrats in Congress and perhaps those running for president.

Rina Shah, a Washington, D.C.-based Republican strategist told Fortune it means Trump “is emboldened to continue behaving in the manner he has since before he took office and during his time in office so far. Politically, today’s public release of the Mueller Report couldn’t have gone better for the President & his re-election campaign.”

Shah said Democrats are going to have a harder time pushing the president out of office.

Shah and others inside the Beltway also noted Barr’s open support of Trump during the press briefing added fuel to Trump’s declaration of having “a good day” even though the attorney general is not the president’s lawyer, but one for the American public.

Barr went as far as commenting on the emotional state of the president, who was “frustrated and angered by his sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents and fueled by illegal leaks.”

Shah said though the report closes the door on some matters, it will hopefully open one for Congress “to ask some big-deal, constitutional questions” of the special counsel, president, and his staff. Ultimately however, she felt the report likely did not change anyone’s mind across America, but perhaps swayed some who support Trump but were hesitant to vote for him.

“The question in the minds of everyone across the political spectrum really has always been, ‘Did he sell out America to the Russians?’ And, tonight, I believe a great many folks are breathing a sigh of relief and going to sleep with the answer ‘no’ on their minds,” she said.

Democrats have now called on Congress to ask for the full, unredacted report to hold the White House accountable. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) laid blame on the attorney general for the need for further investigation, commenting that “we clearly can’t believe what Attorney General Barr tells us.”

There has been talk of calling Mueller in front of Congress for a testimony so they can hear about the conclusions from him directly, to which Barr did not object.

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