So, now that Mueller has cleared him, what’s next for Trump?
Just because he's dodged the Russia and obstruction-of-justice bullets doesn't mean he's in the clear
Special counsel Robert Mueller has concluded that nobody associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or knowingly co-ordinated” with Russia during the 2016 presidential election, and US attorney-general William Barr says he does not see enough evidence to charge Trump with obstruction of justice.
But that does not necessarily mean Trump is in the clear – he still faces a number of investigations into his business and other aspects of his political campaign, and Democrats are launching a wave of probes from Capitol Hill.
Following are possible next steps as Washington continues to wrestle over Russia’s role in the election, the conduct of Mueller’s investigation and other aspects of the Trump-Russia saga.
How much of Mueller’s report can be made public?
Barr said he wants to release as much of Mueller’s report as he can, as long as it does not undermine legal proceedings that should be kept secret, such as grand jury interviews, or interfere with other ongoing investigations. He is now going through the report to determine what can be released.
Democrats are pressing Barr to release the entire report so they can draw their own conclusions. If he does not do so, expect a protracted tug-of-war that could end up in court.
The question of obstruction
Foremost on Democrats’ minds is whether Trump obstructed justice by interfering with Mueller’s probe and other investigations.
Barr says he did not, but he adds that Mueller presented evidence on both sides of the question. Democrats will press for access to Mueller’s full report, as well as the underlying evidence he collected over the course of an investigation that interviewed 500 witnesses and issued more than 2,800 subpoenas.
The Democratic chairs of six House of Representatives committees said on Friday they expected that evidence to be turned over on request to their panels, which cover everything from taxes to banking.
The House Judiciary Committee is also expected to continue its own investigation into alleged obstruction of justice after requesting documents from 81 people and organisations several weeks ago.
Trump allies says time to move on - or maybe not
The Russia probe has dogged Trump’s presidency from his first months in office. His allies say it is now time to move on and focus on substantive issues such as trade and the economy.
But some of Trump’s biggest supporters on Capitol Hill do not want to put the matter to rest just yet.
Senate Judiciary Committee chairperson Lindsey Graham, a Republican, has said he wants to investigate whether top officials at the justice department discussed forcing Trump from office, and is pressing the FBI to hand over documents relating to their surveillance of Carter Page, a foreign policy adviser on Trump’s election team.
Barr on the Hill
House Judiciary Committee chairperson Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, said he planned to ask Barr to testify before his committee to explain why he thought Trump should not be charged with obstruction of justice.
Many Democrats are already suspicious of Barr’s views on the issue. As a private lawyer, Barr wrote an unsolicited memo to the justice department in 2018 arguing that Mueller’s obstruction inquiry was “fatally misconceived” and saying that presidents have “all-encompassing” authority over law enforcement investigations, even those that relate to him directly.
Barr’s views of presidential power are relevant not only when it comes to obstruction of justice, but to other issues such as how much the administration is required to co-operate with congressional investigators – which will be a key issue over the next two years.
Barr faced pointed questions from Democrats during his January confirmation hearing. Any session devoted to obstruction of justice and presidential powers could be much more contentious.
Mueller did not speak publicly during the 22-month investigation, but that might change now that his work is done.
Nadler and House Intelligence Committee chairperson Adam Schiff have said they may try to get him to testify in front of Congress. The questioning might be relatively polite – as a former FBI director and decorated Vietnam War veteran, Mueller is one of the most respected people in Washington.
But his testimony may not be that revealing. Mueller has cultivated a reputation as a scrupulous prosecutor, and he may not be willing to discuss evidence or reach conclusions not contained in his report. Also, as special prosecutor, he is required to defer to Barr as to what can be disclosed to the public.
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