That the Special Counsel investigation, into whether Donald Trump and his associates colluded with Russians in their (the Russians’) attempts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, found no evidence of collusion, is indeed a significant and positive outcome from Mr. Trump’s perspective.
However, the conclusions of Robert Mueller’s probe and Attorney-General William Barr’s four-page summary of it to Congress on Sunday raise more questions than they answer. Legal and political battles around the conduct of Mr. Trump and his associates in the run-up to and following the 2016 election will continue in Washington and beyond.
The President and his inner circle are, not surprisingly, projecting the revelations as a complete victory. “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!” Mr. Trump tweeted. While the ‘no collusion’ finding is a boost for the President, Mr. Trump is incorrect to call this a “total exoneration”. The report, as per the summary from Mr. Barr, does not give Mr. Trump a clean chit with regard to obstruction of justice allegations.
“While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” Mr. Barr quoted the report as saying.
The obstruction issue
Significantly, Mr. Barr and Deputy-Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein have decided that the evidence from the investigation is “not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schemer questioned Mr. Barr’s suitability to make such a decision on Sunday. “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,” they said in a statement.
Sunday’s conclusions are likely to be just the start of another round of battles in Washington. Congressman Jerrold Nadler, who heads the powerful House Judiciary Committee (it has impeachment processes in its portfolio), denied that Mr. Trump was exonerated by the Mueller findings. On Sunday, Democrats reiterated a need for the entire Mueller Report and its supporting documents to be released.
Additionally, top Democrats, including Mr. Nadler, on Sunday, asked Mr. Barr to appear before the a House panel “without delay”.
In addition, the House Judiciary Committee had sent 81 individuals and organisations requests for information earlier this month as it embarked on an investigation into the President and his associates. This means the investigations around Mr. Trump and his inner circle will continue. It also means, regardless of the specific outcomes, information will be gathered that will be used as part of the Democrats’ campaign in 2020.
Leverage for GOP
But these events and processes are also likely to be used by the GOP and Mr. Trump.
The GOP has, by and large, stood by the President. While some congressional Republicans have repeatedly and openly questioned Mr. Trump or the administration’s policies, they have mostly towed the party line. The Mueller probe gives Republicans who have been conflicted the perfect opportunity to huddle together as one GOP and use what the report found — or did not find — as leverage.
The Mueller probe may have concluded, but it is just one event in the saga of the Trump presidency. More than a dozen federal and State investigations around Mr. Trump and his associates are under way. These are looking into potential campaign finance violations foreign donations, tax violations and so forth.