U.S. President Donald Trump has declared “total exoneration” after the release of the summary of the special counsel’s report on Russia’s role in the 2016 U.S. election, but Democrats cried foul, insisting that Trump has not been cleared and demanding the full report be made public.
Trump and his allies appeared jubilant on March 24 after Attorney General William Barr said in a letter released to Congress and made public that Robert Mueller's report states that the probe "did not establish that members" of Trump's campaign "conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
Barr also said he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded the evidence gathered by Mueller is “not sufficient to establish” that Trump committed obstruction of justice -- a separate question that the special counsel investigated.
Shortly after Barr's letter came out, Trump called the developments a "complete and total exoneration" and described Mueller's investigation as "an illegal takedown that failed."
In a tweet before making his remarks to reporters, Trump wrote: "No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!"
"There was no collusion with Russia. There was no obstruction. It was a complete and total exoneration," Trump said.
"It's a shame that the country had to go through this. This was an illegal takedown that failed."
White House Deputy Press Secretary Hogan Gidley said Trump was "in a really good mood" and "very happy with how it all turned out."
Vice President Mike Pence said Mueller's conclusions are a "total vindication" of Trump and "our campaign" and "should be welcomed by every American who cherishes the truth and the integrity of our elections."
However, Barr quoted Mueller's report as saying: "While this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
Democrats who disputed Trump's claim of vindication focused on those words and on the fact that Mueller decided not to "draw a conclusion" on whether Trump obstructed justice. Barr -- a Trump appointee who was confirmed as the U.S. chief prosecutor in February -- decided along with Rosenstein that the evidence was insufficient to show that he did.
"President Trump is wrong" to claim total exoneration, Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives, told reporters. "The president has not been exonerated by the special counsel."
"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," House speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a joint statement.
They also said that Barr, nominated just months ago by Trump, is "not a neutral observer" in the process and that his four-page letter about Mueller's report is not an objective summary of Mueller's findings.
Nadler also cited concerns about Barr's conclusions and said he would call Barr to testify before Congress.
"In light of the very concerning discrepancies and final decision-making at the Justice Department following the Special Counsel report, where Mueller did not exonerate the President, we will be calling Attorney General Barr in to testify before @HouseJudiciary in the near future," Nadler wrote on Twitter.
Nadler wrote that after Mueller's 22-month investigation, Barr "took 2 days to tell the American people that while the President is not exonerated, there will be no action" by the Department of Justice.
Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, a Democrat who is running for president in 2020, pointed out that lawmakers voted earlier this month for the release of the full Mueller report, not a summary from what she called Trump's "handpicked Attorney General."
Mueller examined Russia's interference in the 2016 election, along with, as Barr's letter describes it, "allegations that members of Trump's presidential campaign, and others associated with it, conspired with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere."
Mueller also examined whether Trump or his associates unlawfully attempted to obstruct justice by trying to hinder the investigation.
His long-awaited report was delivered to Barr on March 22. On March 24 -- Sunday afternoon in Washington, D.C. -- Barr sent a letter to U.S. lawmakers with his outline of the "principal findings" of Mueller's investigation.
Over the course of his probe, Mueller indicted more than three dozen people and entities on various charges.
None of the charges has directly addressed the question of whether there was coordination between Trump’s associates and Russian officials.
Barr said that that no further indictments were to come directly from the Mueller probe. However, other jurisdictions could file charges related to offshoot issues from Mueller's investigation.
Barr, the Justice Department, Congress, and the White House all could play a role in deciding how much of Mueller’s work should be made public.
In January 2017, the same month that Trump took office, the U.S. intelligence community said it had concluded that Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a hacking-and-propaganda campaign aimed at undermining the U.S. electoral process, discrediting Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and eventually improving Trump's chances in the November 2016 election.
Putin has denied Russia meddled in the election, despite substantial evidence, including indictments handed down by Mueller's office.
Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, on March 24 told state-run TASS news agency that the Kremlin had “not yet read” Barr’s summary.