‘Let’s see whether or not it’s legit…’
(Chris Megerian and Del Quentin Wilber, Los Angeles Times) Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III turned in his long-anticipated report on the Russia investigation on Friday, a milestone in the nearly two-year political and legal saga that has plagued President Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House.
Mueller delivered a confidential report to Attorney General William Barr, the Justice Department announced, but no details were released. Barr likely will provide a summary to Congress.
Barr has pledged to publicly release as much as the law allows, but some details may be withheld to protect grand jury testimony or classified information.
Even before he filed his report, the former FBI director had produced a vast public record of crimes, lies and misdeeds, one that is especially alarming because it involves a foreign adversary interfering in a U.S. election.
However, a Congressional investigation also produced equally alarming evidence showing the lengths to which partisan officials in U.S. intelligence went to interfere in the election—which may have included using false, unvetted, Kremlin-sourced information provided by the Hillary Clinton campaign to justify eavesdropping on Trump staff members.
Trump has long pointed the finger at FBI collusion while maintaining his own innocence, but Mueller’s report and recommendations to Barr should resolve, for some, where the blame lay.
Mueller has given no interviews or issued public statements since he was appointed special counsel in May 2017. That added an unusual degree of mystery to his work and prompted endless speculation about the sprawling criminal and counterintelligence investigation.
The filing of Mueller’s report likely marks a starting point for waves of legal battles, congressional wrangling and political recriminations in the months ahead and through the 2020 presidential campaign.
House Democrats have vowed to issue subpoenas, if necessary, to obtain the complete report as they launch multiple investigations aimed at Trump’s businesses, private finances and presidency.
Liberal activist groups, fearful that the White House will seek to bury critical details, have planned protests to demand release of the full report.
However, Trump himself called this week for the full report to be made public while also denouncing the false pretenses of it. “Let it come out. Let people see it,” he told reporters at the White House. “Let’s see whether or not it’s legit.”
The special counsel’s office investigated Moscow’s efforts to sway the 2016 presidential campaign, whether Trump’s aides or allies conspired with the Kremlin-backed operation, and whether the president improperly interfered with the investigation. Along the way, Mueller’s team uncovered and prosecuted numerous other crimes.
Other federal prosecutors already have used Mueller’s work to kick off their own investigations. The U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has directly implicated Trump in an illegal hush-money scheme allegedly designed to silence his alleged mistresses in the final weeks of the 2016 campaign.
Depending on what the report says, Trump is expected to claim full vindication or continue his tirades against a “witch hunt” that he says was conducted for partisan purposes. He submitted written answers to questions from Mueller’s team, but despite months of negotiations did not submit to a formal interview.
Likewise, the Congressional Democrats pitted against him are unlikely to accept as conclusive any outcome short of their aim to impeach and indict the president.
For months, powerful House committee chairs such as Reps. Adam Schiff of California, Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Jerrold Nadler of New York have pledged to continue investigating regardless of the findings.
It’s unclear whether Mueller’s report will include major revelations beyond the extensive indictments and court filings he’s assembled in the last two years.
The special counsel’s office detailed how Vladimir Putin’s Russia attempted to influence the last presidential campaign with a vast disinformation campaign on social media as well as illegal hacks and leaks of Democratic Party emails.
Court filings alleged that Trump’s top lieutenants met or communicated dozens of times with Russian diplomats, suspected intelligence agents or officials during the campaign and the transition that followed—and then lied repeatedly about those contacts.
In addition, while Trump was running for president, his confidants secretly tried to assemble financial and political support in Moscow to build a luxury Trump Tower condominium and hotel complex potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars to his business.
Of the 34 individuals indicted by Mueller, including 25 Russians, seven people pleaded guilty—among them, some in Trump’s inner orbit.
They include Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser; Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman; Richard Gates, his deputy campaign chairman; and Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer and a senior executive in the Trump Organization.
However, many of the crimes were, in fact, considered process crimes such as tax evasion and other financial fraud that were unrelated to the investigation itself and designed to serve as leverage to secure witness cooperation.
Trump defenders maintain that some of those accused of making false statements to investigators—including Michael Flynn, Trump’s first, short-lived national security adviser—did so under conditions of duress and entrapment while having done little or nothing else to violate the law.
No Americans were charged with conspiring with the Kremlin-backed operation, and Trump has consistently denied any collusion between his campaign and Moscow.
On Wednesday, Trump complained that Mueller, unlike him, had never won an election.
“I got 63 million votes. And now somebody just writes a report? I think it’s ridiculous,” the president said.
Rosenstein was overseeing the Russia investigation because Jeff Sessions, then the attorney general, had recused himself because of his role in the campaign. Sessions was forced out in November and Barr was confirmed as his replacement in February.
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.
(c)2019 Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.