The release of special counsel Robert Mueller
’s report on Thursday ends a two-year investigation that has shadowed Donald Trump’s presidency but opens a new era likely to keep Mueller and his findings in the spotlight.
The White House and congressional Republicans welcomed Thursday’s report as positive news for the president, while Democrats vowed to move forward with their investigations.
Mueller ultimately did not establish that Trump or members of his campaign coordinated or conspired with Moscow to affect the 2016 presidential election, but he and his team declined to reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice.
That issue is likely to be at the center of the political debate moving forward.
Here are five takeaways from Thursday.
It’s good news for Trump
Mueller’s report is generally welcome news for the president, particularly when it comes to confronting allegations of Russian “collusion.”
The special counsel’s office wrote that while Russia actively sought to help Trump win the 2016 election, campaign officials were either unaware of the efforts or not fully receptive to them.
The report details how a Russian troll farm with links to the Kremlin, known as the Internet Research Agency, sought to sow discord among the American public on social media in favor of Trump. And it shows how Russian intelligence officers hacked both the Democratic National Committee and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton
‘s campaign chairman John Podesta.
Mueller states that the Trump campaign was not involved in either of those efforts
While he wrote that Trump’s campaign “expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
Many of the damaging examples about the president and linked officials were also previously reported, making their inclusion in the report less striking than they may have been if they had been unknown.
Mueller also declined to pursue an obstruction of justice charge against Trump, writing that he also did not seek a subpoena for Trump’s testimony because he believed it would take too long.
But on obstruction, there were sections of Mueller’s report that were harmful to the president.
Obstruction takes center stage
Mueller wrote that he lacked “confidence” to rule definitively that Trump did not criminally obstruct justice, and that his report did not exonerate the president.
The report says Mueller’s team was challenged in establishing whether Trump acted with “corrupt intent” when he fired FBI Director James Comey
and when he sought to remove Mueller as special counsel, among other episodes.
The report also notes that Mueller did not find that Trump or members of his campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election, but presents other potential motivations that could have driven Trump to impede the probe.
“The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred,” the report states. “Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
The report sets out detailed accounts of 10 instances in which Trump may have obstructed justice, which Attorney General William Barr
and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein
ultimately judged as insufficient to accuse Trump of an obstruction of justice offense three weeks ago.
Democrats say the evidence set forth is damning, and they’ve accused Barr of mischaracterizing the special counsel’s findings with an air of political bias.
“Even in its incomplete form … the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump
engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler
(D-N.Y.) said at a press conference in New York Thursday afternoon.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein
(Calif.), the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that while some of Trump’s actions took place in public view, the report “provides significant new details about his efforts to interfere in the investigation and his desire to protect himself.”
House Democrats are expected to home in on the obstruction details in their own efforts to probe Trump, including demanding unfettered access to Mueller’s complete report as well as the underlying evidence.
The president, meanwhile, has claimed the report and Barr’s four-page summary of it as totally vindicating him on allegations of colluding with Russia and obstruction. Trump tweeted Thursday evening that he could have “fired everyone, including Mueller” if he wanted to but chose not to.
Trump was deeply concerned over Mueller appointment
One of the most interesting revelations about the report is that it shows how concerned Trump was about Mueller’s appointment.
He worried when Mueller took the post in May 2017 that it could precipitate the end of his presidency, according to evidence obtained by the special counsel’s investigators.
Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions
first told Trump that Mueller had been appointed to investigate Russian interference and links between his campaign and Moscow during an Oval Office meeting.
Trump’s initial reaction was to “slump” into his chair and say, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m f—ed,” according to notes recorded by Jody Hunt, who was then Sessions’s chief of staff.
“Everyone tells me if you get one of these independent counsels it ruins your presidency. It takes years and years and I won’t be able to do anything. This is the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Trump said, according to the notes as detailed by Mueller.
Trump went on to ask Session for his resignation — a demand he later rescinded — and to repeatedly attack his top law enforcement officer for deciding to recuse himself from overseeing the Russia probe.
Eventually, when press reports revealed Mueller was investigating whether Trump obstructed justice, Trump asked then-White House counsel Don McGahn to remove Mueller based on what he viewed as conflicts of interest.
“McGahn did not carry out the instruction for fear of being seen as triggering another Saturday Night Massacre and instead prepared to resign,” the report states. “McGahn ultimately did not quit and the President did not follow up with McGahn on his request to have the Special Counsel removed.”
Report sets up challenges for Pelosi
Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) has effectively ruled out impeaching Trump absent new compelling and overwhelming evidence against the president.
On Thursday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer
(D-Md.) said Democrats were focused on the 2020 presidential election in the wake of Mueller’s report, even as its details on obstruction sparked new calls for impeachment.
Hoyer told CNN that moving forward on impeachment would not be “worthwhile.”
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point. Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgement,” Hoyer said.
But Rep. Al Green
(D-Texas) at a press conference in Houston said Mueller has “given us ample evidence for us to move forward with impeachment.” He threatened to force another House vote on the subject if congressional committees don’t act.
Pelosi faces a balancing act.
She’s likely to continue her criticism of the president, seizing on revelations coming out of Mueller’s report, while stopping short of conversations around impeachment.
“The differences are stark between what Attorney General Barr said on obstruction and what Special Counsel Mueller said on obstruction,” Pelosi said in a joint statement with Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Thursday.
“Attorney General Barr presented a conclusion that the president did not obstruct justice while Mueller’s report appears to undercut that finding,” they said.
The special counsel’s report indicates that several other matters investigated by Mueller were referred to other branches of the Justice Department to examine. Combined with instances noted by Mueller that could have resulted in criminal charges but were not pursued by federal prosecutors over a lack of evidence, Democrats will have no shortage of ammunition to further their attacks on the president.
Mueller will be in congressional spotlight
Even before Mueller’s report was released, top Democrats were calling for his testimony.
Nadler issued a letter to the Justice Department moments after Barr held his press conference on the Mueller report, requesting that Mueller testify “immediately,” but no later than May 23.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” Nadler tweeted.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff
(D-Calif.) has also requested that Mueller appear before his committee.
And Barr said during his press conference that he would be open to Mueller — still an employee at the Justice Department — testifying before Congress.
Mueller maintained an extraordinarily low profile during the course of his investigation, rarely making public appearances. But with the probe now over, the door is open to Mueller publicly testifying in an event that would garner national attention.
Lawmakers are likely to press Mueller over redactions made to Thursday’s version of the report, as well as actions taken by the special counsel as part of the probe.
Mueller’s report revealed that the special counsel had considered subpoenaing Trump for answers to several questions, but decided against the move because it would take too long. That’s a line of questioning likely to emerge during any potential appearance on Capitol Hill by the special counsel.
Olivia Beavers contributed.
Five takeaways from Mueller’s report
The release of special counsel Robert Mueller