NEWS
25/03/2019 8:24 AM AEDT | Updated 25/03/2019 1:07 PM AEDT

Democrats Skeptical After Trump’s Attorney General Exonerates Him

Attorney General William Barr has exonerated President Donald Trump of attempting to obstruct justice in the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. 

“Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr wrote in a letter to Congress, summarizing his reading of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. 

Trump and his allies greeted Barr’s letter as an all-out triumph. Barr said Mueller also did not find that “the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US. presidential election.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the report was “a total and complete exoneration of the President of the United States.” The president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., said it “proves what those of us with sane minds have known all along, there was ZERO collusion with Russia.

But notably, Mueller did not exonerate Trump from obstruction of justice. As Barr himself notes in his letter, “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’”

Barr took it upon himself, with the help of Rosenstein, to come to the conclusion to let Trump off the hook. Matt Miller, who served as the Justice Department spokesman during President Barack Obama’s administration, questioned why Barr felt it necessary to do so. 

Rather than settle matters, Barr’s conclusion is making Democrats in Congress even more intent on obtaining the fuller Mueller report. The fact that the special counsel didn’t exonerate Trump ― but his hand-picked attorney general did ― won’t satisfy Democratic lawmakers. 

Indeed, House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) tweeted Sunday that he will be calling on Barr to testify before his panel.

Nadler, along with Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) later released a joint statement casting further doubt on Barr’s conclusion.

“It is unacceptable that, after Special Counsel Mueller spent 22 months meticulously uncovering this evidence, Attorney General Barr made a decision not to charge the President in under 48 hours. The Attorney General did so without even interviewing the President,” they said.

Democrats have been united in saying they want to see Mueller’s full report and the supporting documentation. Nadler said at a press conference Sunday evening that, if necessary, he would use subpoena power to do so.

On Saturday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a call with her caucus, vowed to oppose any classified briefings on the report. She said she believed any briefing to members of Congress must be unclassified so that lawmakers would be free to talk about the findings publicly.

In a joint statement Sunday, Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) also raised questioned about Barr’s decision to exonerate Trump and questioned his neutrality:

“The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay,” they said. “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.”

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) tweeted that if the Mueller report truly does exonerate Trump, there seems to be no reason that Republicans would object to letting the public see it. 

Rosenstein named Mueller, the former director of the FBI, as the special counsel in May 2017. The move came after Trump abruptly dismissed FBI Director James Comey as that agency was conducting the Russia probe. Trump had tried to pressure Comey into dropping the investigation into his former national security director Michael Flynn, who ended up pleading guilty to a felony count of lying to the FBI. The president also has acknowledged that the Russia investigation was on his mind when he decided to fire Comey. 

Mueller’s 22-month investigation resulted in charges against 34 people. Federal and state prosecutors are still pursuing about a dozen probes that largely grew out of Mueller’s work, and Congress continues to look into matters surrounding Trump. Mueller issued more than 2,800 subpoenas, executed nearly 500 search warrants and interviewed approximately 500 witnesses.