The release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election merely served to keep the pot boiling as expected with no end in sight. President Trump declared the report cleared him of collusion and obstruction of justice, while Democrats lambasted Attorney General William Barr for his handling of the release and moved full speed toward their own congressional investigations.
It was déjà vu from three weeks ago when Barr summarized the report’s findings. The full report gave details of Russian interference beginning as early as 2014 with numerous social media operations, hacking of computer networks of the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton and the release of documents to Wikileaks.
But, the report said, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The investigation also “did not identify evidence that any U.S. person conspired or coordinated with” the Russian agency behind the interference.
On the question of obstruction of justice by the president — the burning issue for Democrats — Mueller’s report threw that up in the air and into the lap of the bitterly divided Congress. The report said: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment. The evidence we obtained about the president’s actions and intents present difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred.”
Even before they received the full report, “Democrats reacted with shock and rage,” as Politico observed, assailing AG Barr for his handling of the release with his news conference reiteration of key points favorable to Trump. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi labeled Barr’s handling of the report “partisan.”
Trump’s legal team called the results of the investigation “a total victory for the president,” underscoring what they argued from outset: “there was no collusion, there was no obstruction.” The president echoed that sentiment. But he and other key Republicans avoided celebrating with a victory lap, their comments generally reflected by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy’s statement: “Nothing we saw today changes the underlying results of the 22-month-long Mueller investigation that ultimately found no collusion.”
Now the congressional investigations will proceed apace. Barr is set to testify before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee chaired by Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on May 1 and before the Democrat-run House judiciary panel on May 2. The House committee will also hear from special counsel Mueller as the investigations continue. Trump antagonist Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Mueller left the obstruction of justice issue to Congress “and we will need to consider it.”
For their part, Republicans intend to dig into the genesis of the Trump investigation, starting with Graham, a supporter of Trump. Graham has called for a special counsel to look for evidence of wrongdoing by top intelligence officials related to Hillary Clinton’s unsecured emails and activities aimed at preventing Trump from becoming president and unseating him after he took office. After last week’s release of the Mueller report, Trump alluded to concerns about the Republican-inspired investigation, saying: “And we do have to get to the bottom of these things, I will say. This should’ve never happened. ... This should never happen to another president again. This hoax … ”
So the stage is set for the investigations, charges and counter charges, accusations and denials to continue indefinitely. The sad truth is that there will be no end of the controversy because of the stark partisan differences. There will be no definitive conclusion. That being true, it’s time for the American people to move beyond this Shakespearean-like drama and let the chips fall where they may.