US President Donald Trump is having a 'good day'. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA
US President Donald Trump is having a 'good day'. Picture: REUTERS/CARLOS BARRIA

Washington — On Thursday, US President Donald Trump celebrated the release of the report into Russian election meddling by special counsel Robert Mueller. “I’m having a good day,” he said, declaring that the report found “no collusion, no obstruction”.

Trump called the two-year-long probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russian agents interfering in the 2016 presidential election a “hoax” that “should never happen to another president again”.

US attorney-general William Barr held a news conference on Thursday to provide his account of how he handled the report into Russian interference in the 2016 US election.

Barr repeated his finding that Trump’s election campaign did not collude with Russia. He also said that Trump did not obstruct justice. Here are five new things we learned:

1. Trump anger (and Comey)

In determining whether Trump obstructed justice, Barr said the president’s anger at the time he took office was a factor. “There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks.” 

Because of that, Barr said Trump’s belief that he was being unfairly targeted undermine allegations that the president obstructed justice. “This evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the president had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.”

However, the report said there is “substantial evidence” that Trump fired FBI director James Comey due to his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation.”

2. Helping WikiLeaks not illegal 

Mueller’s report details the efforts by Russian military officials to hack into Democratic Party computers and steal information. It also discusses how those e-mails were transmitted to WikiLeaks and published, Barr said.

The attorney-general made a distinction: while hacking the e-mails was a crime, publishing those e-mails was not if the person did not also participate in the hacking. “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.

After that explanation, Barr said the special counsel did not find anyone from the Trump campaign broke the law. “The special counsel’s report did not find that any person associated with the Trump campaign illegally participated in the dissemination of the materials.” 

3. 10 episodes 

Mueller examined what he called 10 separate “episodes” involving Trump related to obstruction of justice.

While Mueller did not give any determination on whether Trump did obstruct justice, his report details legal theories behind each incident.

“The report recounts 10 episodes involving the president and discusses potential legal theories for connecting these actions to elements of an obstruction offence,” Barr said

4. Barr and Mueller disagreed

Barr and deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein disagreed with Mueller on some of his legal theories in examining whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr told reporters that he and Rosenstein thought that some of the “episodes” did not amount to obstruction of justice. But regardless, they used Mueller’s legal framework in making the determination.

“We accepted the special counsel’s legal framework for purposes of our analysis and evaluated the evidence as presented by the special counsel in reaching our conclusion,” Barr said, referring to his determining there was no obstruction of justice.

5. White House reviewed 

The office of the White House counsel asked to review the redacted version of the Mueller report to determine whether the president should invoke executive privilege, Barr said.

Lawyers — personal and in the White House — were able to review the redacted copy, which Barr said is consistent with precedent. After that review, Trump opted not to use his executive privilege to keep any portions of the report secret, Barr said.

“Following that review, the president confirmed that, in the interests of transparency and full disclosure to the American people, he would not assert privilege over the special counsel’s report.”

The president’s personal lawyers were not permitted to request any redactions, Barr said. 

Democrats demands

On Thursday, the top Democrats in the US house of representatives and senate called on Mueller to testify publicly about his investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.

House speaker Nancy Pelosi and senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer criticised Barr for writing what they called a “slanted” summary letter and for planning a press conference to immediately follow the expected release of the report detailing the probe’s findings.

Pelosi and Schumer said in a statement, “We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the special counsel’s investigation is for Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the house and senate as soon as possible.”  

Key reactions 

Trump’s legal team: “The results of the investigation are a total victory for the president. The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning: there was no collusion; there was no obstruction.

“After a 17-month investigation, testimony from some 500 witnesses, the issuance of 2,800 subpoenas, the execution of nearly 500 search warrants, early morning raids, the examination of more than 1.4-million pages of documents, and the unprecedented co-operation of the president, it is clear there was no criminal wrongdoing. Nothing withheld; nothing concealed; nothing deleted; nothing destroyed; and nothing bleached.”

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell: “The nation is fortunate to have an experienced leader like Bill Barr in place to ensure maximum possible transparency, while carefully protecting classified material and legally restricted grand jury information. Like all of my colleagues, I look forward to carefully reviewing the report.”

Democratic US senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris: “Congress must receive this report in full along with all underlying investigative materials. As a member of the senate intelligence committee, I know a selectively redacted version of the report is not sufficient for congress to fulfill its responsibility to conduct meaningful oversight over this investigation and decisions made by Trump administration officials surrounding its conclusion.” 

Reuters, AFP