Putin tells Pompeo he wants to ‘fully restore’ US-Russian ties

US secretary of state met Russian president and foreign minister to discuss Iran, Ukraine, Venezuela and Syria.

The Russian President Putin told Pompeo his country had not interfered in US elections [Pavel Golovkin/Pool via Reuters]
The Russian President Putin told Pompeo his country had not interfered in US elections

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he would like to “fully restore” relations with the United States and believes that his US counterpart Donald Trump wants to do the same.

Putin on Tuesday told US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo he came to that conclusion after a phone call with Trump a few days ago.

The Russian president, speaking ahead of  a meeting with Pompeo, also said that his country had not interfered in US elections.

Earlier, Pompeo met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi in hopes of finding common grounds in strategic issues over Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela.

At a joint news conference following the meeting, Pompeo urged Russia to end support for President Nicolas Maduro, but his call was flatly rejected by Moscow.

“The time has come for Nicolas Maduro to go, he has brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people, and we hope that Russian support for Maduro will end,” Pompeo said. The US along with about 50 other countries, backs the opposition movement led by Juan Guaido, who declared himself interim president in January.

For his part, Lavrov said Maduro’s future should be decided by the Venezuelan people and called US pressure on him undemocratic.

‘Many differences’ on Iran

Speaking on Iran, Russia’s ally, Lavrov said that Russia and the US “have many differences” and criticized the US decision to unilaterally withdraw from Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) agreement meant to rein in the country’s nuclear programme.

US air carrier in the Gulf a target not a threat: Iran commander

Pompeo said that the US will respond appropriately to any Iranian attacks on US interests, in an apparent reference to the Iranian military’s threat to shut the strategic strait of Hormuz in the Gulf. The US secretary, however, added that his country did not “seek war with Iran”.

The US recently tightened restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programme by revoking key sanctions waivers, a move staunchly opposed by Moscow, over a year after Washington withdrew from a landmark deal that curbed Iran’s nuclear programme. It also imposed new sanctions on the country’s metal sector.

On the Ukrainian crisis, an issue the sides are also loggerheads, the Pompeo said the US would not recognize Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea and would keep in place economic sanctions imposed on Russia over that move.

Mike Pompeo met Sergey Lavrov in Sochi to discuss a range of issues including Iran, Venezuela and Ukraine [Pavel Golovkin, Pool/AP]

Pompeo said he asked Moscow to free a group of Ukrainian sailors, seized by Russia last November, and to work with Ukraine‘s new president to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Lavrov said that the Kremlin would welcome an official request by Washington for a meeting between the US and Russian presidents at a G20 summit scheduled for June.

US warning on 2020 polls

Pompeo also said he had made it clear to Lavrov that there could be no repeat of election interference of the kind Washington accuses Moscow of undertaking in the 2016 United States presidential election.

If Russia interferes in the 2020 presidential election, “it would put our relationship in an even worse place,” Pompeo said.

Ties between the two countries have been damaged by allegations that Russia tried to influence the results of the election in favour of Trump, a claim denied by Moscow.

Putin tells Pompeo he wants to ‘fully restore’ US-Russian ties

“It’s clear that such insinuations are absolute fiction,” Lavrov said at the joint press conference.

Pompeo’s visit represents the first high-level contact between Moscow and Washington since US Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted a report examining the nature of Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

His inquiry had cast a pall over US-Russian relations, and Russian officials had expressed hope that Washington would have more scope to build friendlier relations with Moscow once it was out of the way.

Before his meeting with Pompeo, Putin praised the report.

“Despite the exotic nature of Mr Mueller’s commission, on the whole he conducted quite an objective investigation and confirmed the absence of any collusion between the US administration and Russia.”

The Mueller report called Russia’s efforts to influence the election “the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, but these activities demonstrated a significant escalation in directness, level of activity, and scope of effort compared to previous operations”.

US House panel votes to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt

Vote comes just hours after President Donald Trump invoked executive privilege over Mueller’s Russia report.

US Attorney General William Barr testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]
US Attorney General William Barr testifies before a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing [Clodagh Kilcoyne/Reuters]

Washington, DC – Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee voted on Wednesday to recommend a contempt citation against US Attorney General William Barr, setting the stage for a constitutional confrontation with the White House over Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s full Russia report.

The 24-16 vote by the key Judiciary Committee came along party lines with all Democrats voting in favour, and all Republicans present opposed. One Republican was absent.

“This was very great and momentous step that we were forced to take today to move a contempt citation against the attorney general of the United States. We did not relish doing this but we have no choice,” Representative Jerrold Nadler, the Democrat chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters after the vote.

Barr had “proved himself to be the personal attorney of President Trump rather than the attorney general of the United States, by misleading the public as to the contents of the Mueller report, twice, by not being truthful with Congress”, Nadler said.

The approval of the contempt resolution, which now goes to the full House for a vote, will likely prompt a court battle that may result in fines or jail time for Barr.

The vote came after weeks of talks between the lawyers for the committee and the attorney general failed to yield an agreement over access to Mueller’s full, unredacted report.

“Democrats are angry Mueller did not provide a roadmap for impeachment,” said Representative Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee.

By “moving to this contempt citation at lightning speed”, the committee Democrats were pursuing “craven and insincere politics that seem to be yielding no benefits for the American people,” Collins said.

Trump invokes executive privilege

Hours before the vote, Republican President Donald Trump invoked executive privilege to block the release of the unredacted version of the Mueller report.

Trump invokes executive privilege over entire Mueller report

Federal courts have recognised a limited right by presidents to keep executive branch materials confidential.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said the privilege claim was in response to Nadler’s “blatant abuse of power” and “at the attorney general’s request”.

House Democrats argued that Trump has already waived any right to executive privilege by allowing aides to provide information to the special counsel.

The Department of Justice said on Wednesday that “it’s not true the president waived executive privilege by sharing materials with the special counsel’s office”, according to Reuters news agency, quoting an unnamed department official.

The department also accused Democrats of engaging in “inappropriate political theatrics”.

Nadler called Trump’s executive privilege decision a “nonsense claim”.

“We will win these court fights because the law is one sided. And when the president or Attorney General Barr or anybody else cites executive privilege in these cases, they are not being honest, because there is no real claim at all,” he said.

Wednesday’s developments come as a battle between House Democrats and the Trump administration intensifies. Trump has sought to block aides and former staffers from cooperating with a number of congressional investigations looking into the president’s behaviour and finances.

‘If we don’t put the breaks, we won’t have a democracy’

The Judiciary Committee is seeking to have Mueller testify at a hearing later this month, perhaps as soon as May 15, and has asked former White House Counsel Don McGahn to appear on May 21.

US: What does the redacted Mueller report say?

White House lawyers are attempting to block McGahn from testifying. Reversing his earlier stance, Trump indicated in a series of tweets he is now opposed to Mueller testifying.

“The president keeps saying there is not going to be a ‘do over’. And he has talked about a number of people have said we should just be finished. That is the worst thing we could do,” Representative Elijah Cummings, the Democrat chairman of the House Oversight Committee, told Al Jazeera.

“If we do not put brakes on what is happening in our country, we will no longer have a democracy,” Cummings said. “We are being blocked every which way from getting information. We also being blocked from having access to members of the administration.”

Representative David Cicilline, a Democrat, told reporters in the US Capitol that sentiment among Democrats was hardening against Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the House review of the Mueller probe.

“Everyone recognises that the administration is attempting to stonewall and prevent progress because they want to run out the clock. We recognize that,” Cicilline said.

Republicans discounted the Judiciary Committee vote to hold Barr in contempt as a partisan exercise.

Post-Mueller: Can Trump block witnesses, access to documents?

“It’s a political contempt vote and we fully expected it,” said Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican who chairs the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House in advance of the vote.

“When you play politics with somebody who has been as honest and forthright as Attorney General Barr has been, I think the American people will see it for what it is. It’s political,” Meadows told Al Jazeera.

‘In favour of prosecution’

Barr has come under criticism for his handling of Mueller’s 22-month investigation. More than 500 former Justice Department officials have signed an open letter calling Trump’s actions described in the Mueller report criminal.

“We believe strongly that … the overwhelming weight of professional judgment would come down in favour of prosecution for the conduct outlined in the Mueller report,” the letter said.

US: What does the redacted Mueller report mean for Trump?

The redacted version of the Mueller report did not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian operatives.

The investigation did, however, examine “multiple acts by the president that were capable of exerting undue influence over law enforcement investigations”.

Mueller did not conclude that Trump committed obstruction of justice, but did not exonerate him either. Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein subsequently concluded that Trump did not break the law.

The Justice Department has made a less-redacted version available for House and Senate leaders and some committee heads, but the Democrats have said that is not enough and have so far declined to read it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has criticised Barr for mischaracterising the Mueller report said last week she believed Barr lied to Congress when he told House and Senate hearings he did not know of any concerns among Mueller’s team about his actions.

Mueller had written a letter to Barr in March that said the attorney general’s summary of the investigation had failed to adequately characterise the substance of the investigation.

US Attorney General William Barr testifies before the Senate Judiciary Committee on ‘The Justice Department’s Investigation of Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election’ [Nicholas Kamm/AFP]

Barr was grilled by Democrat senators in a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on May 1.

Meanwhile, Senate Republicans are seeking to bring an end to the controversy over the Mueller report. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham has said he does not intend to call Mueller to testify. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a speech in the Senate on Tuesday arguing the matter should be closed.

Senate intelligence committee subpoenas Donald Trump Jr: reports

The panel renewed interest in talking to Trump Jr after the president’s ex-lawyer, Cohen, testified earlier this year.

Donald Trump Jr disembarks Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]
Donald Trump Jr disembarks Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland [File: Yuri Gripas/Reuters]

The United States Senate Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump Jr, to answer questions about his contacts with Russia, US media reported on Wednesday, citing unnamed congressional sources.

The panel is seeking to question Trump Jr about congressional testimony he gave in September 2017 to the Senate Judiciary Committee which was subsequently contradicted in public testimony by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, one source told Reuters News Agency.

During his Judiciary Committee appearance, the source said, Trump Jr was asked about the extent of his involvement in a plan to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.

“Like I said, I was peripherally aware of it, but most of my knowledge has been gained since as it relates to hearing about it over the last few … weeks,” Trump Jr told the committee, according to an official transcript.

In testimony before the House of Representatives Oversight Committee, however, Cohen, who began serving a federal prison sentence earlier this week, said he briefed Trump family members “approximately 10 times” about the Moscow Trump Tower project, and that Donald Jr and his sister Ivanka were among the family members he briefed.

A Senate Intelligence Committee spokeswoman declined to discuss details of its long-running investigation into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. The subpoena is a sign that the panel is still conducting its investigation even after the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s report.

A lawyer for Donald Trump Jr did not immediately respond to Reuters’s request for comment.

Confrontation intensifies

US House panel votes to hold Attorney General Barr in contempt

The reports came as a battle between House Democrats and the Trump administration intensified.

Separately on Wednesday, the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee approved a measure to hold US Attorney General William Barr in contempt for refusing to hand over an unredacted copy of Mueller’s Russia report. The measure now goes to the full House for a vote, and likely sets up a court battle and possible fines or jail time for Barr.

President Donald Trump also invoked the legal principle of executive privilege to block the report’s disclosure.

Trump, seeking re-election in 2020, is stonewalling numerous probes by House Democrats, ranging from Mueller’s inquiry to matters such as Trump’s tax returns and past financial records.

US attorney general faces contempt vote over Mueller report

Attorney General William BarrCongressional Democrats will vote on whether Attorney General William Barr will be held in contempt

Democrats in the US House of Representatives have decided to launch contempt proceedings against Attorney General William Barr.

They took action after he failed to comply with a House Judiciary Committee subpoena to submit an unredacted version of the Mueller report.

The Department of Justice had previously called the request “premature and unnecessary”.

The Democratic-led committee said the vote would be held on Wednesday.

The attorney general, who was appointed by the president, also missed a deadline last week to release an uncensored version of the report.

What did committee members say?

Jerrold Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement on Monday: “Congress must see the full report and underlying evidence to determine how to best move forward with oversight, legislation, and other constitutional responsibilities.

“The Attorney General’s failure to comply with our subpoena, after extensive accommodation efforts, leaves us no choice but to initiate contempt proceedings.”

But Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, dismissed the Democratic move as “illogical and disingenuous”.

“Democrats have launched a proxy war smearing the attorney general when their anger actually lies with the president and the special counsel,” the Georgia congressman said.

Six committees in the Democratic-controlled House are demanding the release of the full Mueller report as part of ongoing investigations into US President Donald Trump.

What does a contempt vote mean?

A contempt vote alone may serve merely as a symbolic rebuke of the attorney general.

For Mr Barr to actually face criminal charges, the entire House – including Republicans – would first have to approve it.

Such a move against an attorney general is not unprecedented, however.

Eric Holder, who served under President Barack Obama, was held in contempt by the then-Republican-controlled House for a botched attempt to track illegal guns.

Mr Holder became the first sitting attorney general held in contempt of Congress after he failed to hand over files related to the operation.

But as expected, the justice department did not pursue charges against Mr Holder.

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters at the White HousePresident Trump has insisted the Mueller Report absolves him of any wrong-doing in his election campaign

What has President Trump said?

Mr Trump said on Twitter on Sunday that the special counsel must not testify to lawmakers, as Democrats desire.

The Republican president had previously said he would not block Mr Mueller from giving evidence to Congress, and leave a final decision to Mr Barr.

The 448-page Mueller report found no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election campaign, but did not reach a conclusion on obstruction.

Democrats hope Mr Mueller’s testimony may offer insights into parts of the report currently shrouded by redactions.

“Why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller to testify,” Mr Trump tweeted on Sunday.

“There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the report), and no collusion.”

It emerged last week that Mr Mueller had written Mr Barr and expressed frustration that the attorney general’s summary did not capture the full context of the special counsel’s findings.

Tension between Mr Barr and congressional Democrats is already high.

Earlier this month, the attorney general refused to testify to the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee after Democrats insisted he be questioned by a staff lawyer. He did, however, testify last week for five hours to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Senior Democrats have called on him to resign, accusing him of lying, while Republicans have argued that Mr Barr is being targeted for political gain.

William Barr: Five questions for US attorney general

Attorney General Bill Barr testifies before a Senate committee in April.

Attorney General William Barr will return to Capitol Hill for the first time since his justice department released a redacted version of the Mueller report into 2016 Russian election meddling. Democrats will be waiting and ready to grill him.

At the moment the attorney general is scheduled to appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and the equivalent House committee on Thursday – although there’s ongoing dispute over the format of the latter hearing. (Democrats want to have a staff lawyer conduct extended questioning outside of each member’s five-minute allotted time.)

It’s unclear at this point how this will all play out, but what is clear is that there are a number of lines of inquiry awaiting the attorney general. Here’s a look at some of the questions that might be in store.

When did you decide there was no obstruction – and why?

Donald Trump, in an interview last week with Fox News host Sean Hannity, said that Mr Barr made up his mind that the president did not commit obstruction of justice “right on the spot” after receiving the Mueller report.

That cuts against the justice department line that it took several days to review the report and craft the attorney general’s four-page letter summarising its findings. It may cause some Democrats to suspect that Mr Barr never actually considered the possibility of presidential obstruction and that an unsolicited June 2018 memo to the justice department about presidential immunity from obstruction charges was indeed an accurate reflection of his views (and quite possibly a prime reason why Mr Trump picked him for the job).

In his four-page summary of the Mueller report, Mr Barr concluded there was “not sufficient” evidence to merit prosecuting Mr Trump because there was no underlying crime of conspiracy with Russia and no evidence of “corrupt intent” by the president.

That was before the Mueller report detailed the long list of possible presidential obstruction, including requests for White House Counsel Don McGahn to fire Mr Mueller and attempts to have then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions resume oversight of the investigation or curtail its scope.

A report by the Washington Post on Tuesday night that Mr Mueller wrote to Mr Barr in late March to complain that his four-page memo “did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of the report only raises the stakes.

Expect Democrats to go point by point through these specific instances and press Mr Barr to explain why each action didn’t meet the threshold for criminal charges.

Did you mischaracterise Mueller’s obstruction analysis?

In the obstruction section of his report, Mr Mueller explained that he felt bound by justice department guidelines that prohibited the indictment of a sitting president. Because a president would not be able to present a defence at trial, he reasoned, it would be improper to express a view about whether or not a president had engaged in criminal conduct.

Those, in a nutshell, are the “difficult issues” that the special counsel said prevented his office from making a “traditional prosecutorial judgement”. Twice, however, he noted that the report did not exonerate the president.

Mr Barr, in his four-page letter, seemingly glossed over this reasoning, instead saying the Mueller report “sets out evidence on both sides” but, in the end, “did not draw a conclusion – one way or the other”. The attorney general then put aside the question of whether a president could be indicted and concluded that the evidence was not sufficient in any case.

Democrats in Congress may challenge Mr Barr’s decision to make this determination rather than, say, leaving it to the House of Representatives to review the information as part of an impeachment inquiry.

The attorney general will be pressed to explain why he acted as he did – and why he didn’t more clearly explain in the first instance why Mr Mueller left the obstruction issue an open question.

When will it be Mueller’s turn?

Watching Mr Barr duck and weave under hostile questions is all well and good, but the man Democrats really want to hear from is the special counsel himself. They’d love to ask him how close the multitude of various contacts Trump campaign officials had with Russians came to criminal conspiracy and how confident he is that various witnesses – including Mr McGahn – are telling the truth.

Tuesday night’s Washington Post story about Mr Mueller’s dissatisfaction with Mr Barr’s summary letter will only make this desire sharper.

Mr Barr will get those questions, too, but chances are his answers will be less than revelatory. If and when Mr Mueller finally steps out of the shadows it will be the kind of high drama seldom seen on Capitol Hill.

For the moment, Mr Mueller is still an employee of the justice department, reporting, ultimately, to Mr Barr himself. The House Judiciary Committee has extended an invitation to the special counsel to appear publicly, but they’ve yet to receive an answer. The attorney general could speed the process along, if he wanted to.

At the very least, Democrats will want Mr Barr to explain why he doesn’t seem to be much help.

Why all the redactions?

The Mueller report was made public with roughly 36 pages of redacted material. At the time of its release, Mr Barr explained that this action covered four categories of material – dealing with ongoing investigations, grand jury proceedings, sensitive intelligence data and “peripheral third party” information.

For Democrats in Congress, the redacted version – or even a slightly less redacted one – isn’t good enough. Mr Nadler has said he wants his committee to see the full report and “underlying evidence”.

Expect Mr Nadler and others to press Mr Barr to more fully explain his reasons for withholding the full document from Congress – and provide insight on how the justice department might respond if he receives a congressional subpoena demanding it.

What were the origins of the Russia investigation?

Democrats will get most of the attention during Mr Barr’s Capitol Hill appearances this week, but it’s worth remembering that Republicans will have just as much time to ask their questions. Expect many of them to try to shift the focus to the early days of the Russia investigation and the now-controversial figures – like FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andre McCabe and Obama administration intelligence officials – who played key roles in what began as a counter-intelligence investigation.

Mr Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Obama White House “spied” on his campaign. While there’s no evidence of that, the justice department did obtain a secret warrant to surveil Carter Page, a former foreign policy adviser for the Trump campaign, and used an FBI informant to approach Page, George Papadopoulos – who also advised the Trump team – and Sam Clovis, the campaign’s national co-chair.

Several weeks ago, in Senate testimony prior to the Mueller report’s release, Mr Barr said that he also believed the government had spied on the Trump campaign.

Republicans will probably encourage the attorney general to expand on his allegations and, perhaps, reveal more about who started the investigation – and why.

US: What does the redacted Mueller report mean for Trump?

The report provides Democrats with a plan for potentially politically damaging investigations of the president.
Trump has repeatedly called the Mueller investigation a 'witch-hunt' [File: Carlos Barria/Reuters]
Trump has repeatedly called the Mueller investigation a ‘witch-hunt’ 

Washington, DC – United States Attorney General William Barr’s release of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s report did more to generate controversy than to settle the political crisis encircling Donald Trump‘s presidency.

Trump did not conspire with Russians to hack his presidential opponent Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016, according to the report, but the special counsel describes a long series of actions by Trump to interfere with the investigation that Congress will now have to assess as potential obstructions of justice. Mueller reached no determination on whether Trump obstructed justice, while Barr concluded Trump had not.

The report provided Democrats in the House of Representatives with a plan for potentially politically damaging investigations of the president and revealed a pattern of manipulation and lying by the White House over the past two years as the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US election proceeded.

“Congress can’t just overlook the activities by the president to obstruct the investigation,” said Matthew Miller, a former Justice Department spokesman who served during the Obama administration

“That doesn’t mean they have to impeach, but there has to be some kind of sanction or censure or else it gives licence to future presidents to behave the same way,” he told Al Jazeera.

Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, plans to bring Mueller to testify before the panel.

On Friday, Nadler issued a subpoena for the full, unredacted report and its underlying evidence. He said the Department of Justice must comply with the subpoena by May 1.

US Democrat Nadler subpoenas full, unredacted Mueller report

Barr is also expected to testify before the Senate and House Judiciary committees on May 1 and 2.

The 448-page report concluded unequivocally that the Russian government interfered in the 2016 US election “in sweeping and systematic fashion”.

It details willful, but probably not illegal, communication between the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks over the release of Democratic emails stolen by Russian hackers.

“This kind of thing goes back to German efforts pre-World War II to infiltrate political parties. It goes back to post-World War II 1950s, when a Soviet spy tried to interfere. It’s just absolutely outrageous,” said Jack Hardin Young, a former counsel to the Democratic National Committee and an election law expert in Washington, DC.

“It should be a crime to have discussions of a campaign nature with agents of a foreign government,” he told Al Jazeera. “It should be a crime to share internal polling data about an American election with foreign governments. If you knowingly engaged with a Kremlin lobbyist, that should be a crime.”

Collusion vs conspiracy

In saying that there was no conspiracy between Trump, his 2016 campaign and Russian hackers, Barr and Mueller applied a strict interpretation of US law.

Mueller would have needed clear evidence that Trump or his associates reached an agreement in advance with Russian government agents to hack and release the Clinton emails in order for there to be a “conspiracy”.

But the report details dozens of contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russian go-betweens.

“Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the Campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through the 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,” the report said.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election as released [Jon Elswick/AP Photo]

Mueller’s conclusion that Trump did not criminally conspire with the Russian government will not be viewed by Trump’s political opposition in Congress as excusing the president of wrongdoing, as Barr and Trump have repeatedly suggested.

“In some sense, the collusion happened out in the open and they didn’t need to seal the deal with an illicit agreement to do it,” Miller said.

“Both sides knew what the other was doing, what the other wanted and welcomed it,” he added. “That may not rise to the level of a crime, but it’s certainly appropriate to ask whether that’s acceptable from a president.”

Obstruction

Among the potential obstructions identified by Mueller, the report said that Trump “intended to encourage” former campaign manager Paul Manafort “to not cooperate” with Mueller by offering eventual pardons to Manafort and Manafort’s business partner Rick Gates. Trump’s personal counsel had told Manafort they were “going to take care of us”, according to the report.

US: What does the redacted Mueller report say?

Gates cooperated with the government while Manafort was prosecuted in two separate trials and is now serving a seven-year prison term. Manafort has also been charged by prosecutors in New York state.

“There’s an enormous amount here, specifically with regards to whether or not the president committed the federal crime of obstructing justice,” Juliet Sorensen, a law professor at Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law told the Associated Press.

The report also said that Trump repeatedly urged White House Counsel Don McGahn to intervene with the Justice Department once the existence of the Russia investigationbecame public. Trump later fired FBI director James Comey because Comey refused to rule out that Trump personally was being investigated in the Russia probe.

Trump directed McGahn to fire Mueller, but McGahn refused for fear of being seen as triggering another “Saturday night massacre”, referring to a term used during US President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal.

Mueller said in the report that he viewed Trump’s written answers to a questionnaire from investigators as “inadequate”. Trump had refused to sit for an in-person interview. Mueller considered issuing a subpoena to the president, but decided not to do so because it would have delayed the investigation, the report said.

For his part, Trump has repeatedly called the investigation a “witch-hunt” and “hoax”. His legal team declared the results a “total victory for the president”.

“The report underscores what we have argued from the very beginning – there was no collusion – there was no obstruction,” Trump’s legal team said on Thursday.

On Friday, the president tweeted, it was “not necessary for me to respond to statements made in the ‘report’ about me, some of which are total bull**** & only given to make the other person look good (or me to look bad). This was an illegally Started Hoax that never should have never happened.”

‘A conundrum’

David Axelrod, a political adviser to former President Barack Obama, said in a tweet that “the report provides a conundrum for Congress by virtually inviting an impeachment probe around the obstruction issue.”

Redacted Mueller report released by US Justice Department

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leading committee chairmen have thus far ruled out impeachment proceedings, but have undertaken sprawling and potentially far-reaching investigations of Trump’s businesses, his presidency and his administration.

In a press conference on Thursday, Barr went out of his way to defend the president, adopting the narrative offered by Trump’s defence team that the president was rightfully outraged by the unfairness of having to confront the Russia investigation immediately after taking office.

Barr argued on behalf of Trump by saying the president’s motives in firing Comey and subsequent obstructions were devoid of criminal intent.

Mueller’s investigation did not address underlying counterintelligence concerns focused on whether Trump is, or was compromised by Russian agents, either financially or personally.

Several spinoff investigations of Trump’s business affairs and presidential actions are being conducted by other state and federal prosecutors.

 

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA NEWS

House Democrat Nadler to subpoena for unredacted Mueller report

Expected subpoena sets up likely legal battle over access to Mueller’s full findings in his Trump-Russia investigation.

US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler holds up volumes of evidence related to President Bill Clinton's impeachment investigation as the committee debates before voting to subpoena Special Counsel Robert Mueller's full, unredacted report [File: Alex Wroblewski/Reuters]
US House of Representatives Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler holds up volumes of evidence related to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment investigation as the committee debates before voting to subpoena Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s full, unredacted report 

Washington, DC – US Representative Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Thursday he will issue a subpoena for the full, unredacted copy of the Mueller report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“Because Congress requires this material in order to perform our constitutionally-mandated responsibilities, I will subpoena for the full report and the underlying materials,” Nadler said in a statement on Thursday after US Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller‘s report to the public.

In a letter sent to Congress on Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said that the Justice Department would make a less-redacted version of the report available to the “Gang of Eight”, the top-ranking House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, as well as the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Each politician can also have a staff member present.

Boyd said the report would be provided in a secure reading room at the Justice Department next week and in a secure room on the Capitol the week of April 29.

Nadler’s comments come as politicians, journalists and the public scour through nearly 450 pages of the redacted Mueller report.

A preliminary look at the report shows that Mueller “identified numerous links between individuals” with ties to Moscow and individuals associated with the Trump campaign, but “the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges” of collusion or coordination.

The report also revealed, however, a series of incidents in which US President Donald Trump took actions to impede the investigation.

According to the report, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn in June 2017 to tell the then-acting attorney general that Mueller had to be removed. McGahn refused.

The report also found there was “substantial evidence” that in 2017 Trump fired then-FBI Director James Comey because of his “unwillingness to publicly state that the president was not personally under investigation”.

Mueller did not make a conclusion on whether Trump committed obstruction of justice, but he also did not exonerate him, according to the report.

Barr then concluded that Mueller’s team did not find enough proof to warrant bring charges against the president.

“Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” Nadler said a statement.

“The special counsel determined that he would not make a traditional charging decision in part because of the Department of Justice policy that a sitting President could not be indicted,” he added. “Rather, the special counsel’s office conducted an incredibly thorough investigation in order to preserve the evidence for future investigators. The special counsel made clear that he did not exonerate the president. The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the President accountable for his actions.”

Nadler also said that he has formally requested that Mueller testify before the House judiciary panel by May 23. Barr is expected to testify before the committee on May 2.

Likely court battle

The expected subpoena sets up a likely court battle between Congress and the Trump administration, if Barr refuses to provide the House with the full document. So far, he has said he will not.

“The chances of his subpoena working are less than snowball’s chance in a very hot area beneath the surface of the earth. It’s going to have to be a court order,” said Gene Rossi, a former Justice Department prosecutor now in private practice in Washington, DC.

“The House Judiciary Committee, and the House and Senate intelligence committees, they should get the full unredacted report. They are in the business of getting classified information and they are in the business of protecting the disclosure of classified information,” Rossi told Al Jazeera. “There is absolutely no reason why those committees cannot get the full monty – the full report.”

The House would have to bring a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, DC, to enforce any subpoena. That could take months even under expedited procedures and would likely ultimately only be settled by the US Supreme Court even though the law is clear on Congress’s ability to obtain documents from the executive branch, Rossi said.

“Because it is so important … it could be an expedited briefing. And they could do this in two months. The judges don’t need a lot of research,” Rossi said.

Mueller report to be released on Thursday: What you won’t see

“It’s not a hard question. Are the committees entitled to the full report if the committees promise not to disclose parts of the report? And if that’s the case, there is no reason not to give it to them. They have the oversight ability and the authority.”

‘Entitled to full report’

Democrats had warned Barr in an April 11 letter that partial release of the Mueller report would be inadequate.

“Congress is entitled to the full report – without redactions – as well as the underlying evidence,” Nadler and five House committee chairs had said in the letter.

“In every other instance where a federal grand jury was used to probe the alleged misconduct of a sitting president – namely in the Watergate and Starr investigations – the Department of Justice has worked with the relevant federal court to release the grand jury information to the House Judiciary Committee,” the Democrats’ letter said. “That has not happened in this instance.”

The Judiciary Committee had authorised the subpoena in a party-line vote on April 3 but Nadler withheld issuing the legal instrument to allow Barr time to work with members of Congress. Instead, Barr insisted he would only consult Congress after the redacted report was released.

The Justice Department staff had reviewed redactions of Mueller’s report in four areas; grand jury information, intelligence sources and methods, potential interference with ongoing prosecutions, and information that would implicate privacy or reputation interest of “peripheral third parties”.

Trump has sought to turn the narrative in Washington, DC, back on the investigators, claiming “Total EXONERATION” on Twitter and repeatedly suggesting the investigation was a “hoax” premised on false information fabricated by political opponents.

‘Undercuts law enforcement’

Barr caused an uproar when he picked up Trump’s claims and said in testimony before a Senate committee April 10 that he believed US agencies had been “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016.

US Democrats say Barr should retract spying statement

Barr subsequently walked the comments back slightly, saying, “I just want to satisfy myself that there was no abuse of intelligence or law enforcement powers.”

But some Democrats in Congress have started to view Barr as little more than a political operator working on Trump’s behalf.

“Barr’s comments have just destroyed the scintilla of credibility he had left in terms of being a responsible person,” Senator Chuck Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, told reporters last week. “When he talked about spying, he made himself into the most partisan attorney general I have seen in a while.”

Others have reserved judgment on whether Barr was doing his job correctly, even if his suggestion of “spying” by top FBI officials on the Trump campaign raised eyebrows.

“That kind of language undercuts law enforcement and the investigative teams that were clearly trying to do their job,” Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen told Al Jazeera. “There were things going on that led to the investigation that were legitimate.”

“I had a briefing with the Department of Homeland Security in the summer of 2016 because I was hearing that there was Russian interference in our elections,” Shaheen said. “Clearly, there was information about the [Russian] effort at the time the investigation started.”

Trump, Russia and the Mueller report: Is it really case closed?