As expected, Attorney General William Barr sent a letter to Congress outlining the general conclusions of the Mueller investigation on Sunday. It included none of the evidentiary findings, just general conclusions, none of which are particularly surprising to me. First, on the subject of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The Mueller investigation found clear evidence of Russian interference, something Trump has consistently denied, but did not find direct evidence of coordination with the Trump campaign, as I predicted long ago. Barr writes, “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.” Once you dig into the details, it apparently found lots of smoke but no fire — and no smoking gun.
This was as I expected. I’ve said several times that I think such interference was initiated by Putin himself without Trump’s involvement. He started it because he viewed Trump as far easier to manipulate than Clinton and wanted him to win. Putin began his career with the KGB as a psychological profiler and few people are easier to read than Trump. Putin knew that he could curry Trump’s favor with shallow flattery and that’s exactly what he did, and is still doing. Clinton was not prone to such simplistic manipulation and Putin knew it. So Putin was betting on Trump without Trump needing to know about it. I do think that the Trump folks later found out what was going on, at least in general terms, and they were warned by the FBI, but they welcomed the help and allowed it to continue without protest.
On the subject of obstruction of justice, the report simply did not reach a final conclusion. Barr writes that the special counsel’s report “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction.” It further notes that, “The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.'” This is one reason why the full report must be made available to Congress and to the public, to dig into the details of the evidence the investigation did find so we can all reach our own conclusions.
Trump, of course, immediately claimed that this is a “total and complete exoneration,” which the report explicitly denies. Anything short of an indictment, which Mueller could not bring under DOJ regulations, would have prompted Trump to say that. He also falsely claimed that the entire investigation was illegal when it was authorized under DOJ and statutory regulations. At every turn, warrants and subpoenas had to be approved by federal judges. The investigation was perfectly legal, but Trump doesn’t care. Any claim, as long as it helps him.
But this is not the end, not by a longshot. Mueller’s part of the investigation may be over, but he farmed out a lot of what was found concerning related and unrelated issues to other federal prosecutors’ offices. And there are at least two ongoing state investigations in New York. It’s the financial crimes that are ultimately the greatest danger to Trump, both legally and politically. And those financial crimes also involve Russian oligarchs and the Russian mafia (essentially the same thing) for things like money laundering. Those investigations continue and still pose a great danger for Trump, and thus a great hope for the country.