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WASHINGTON – Attorney General William Barr on Sunday sent a letter to Congress that outlined the principal findings of special counsel Robert Mueller's two-year-long investigation into Russia's attack on the 2016 presidential election. The letter also explained Mueller's and Barr's opinions on whether President Donald Trump's repeated attempts to influence various elements of the Justice Department's probe amounted to the crime of obstruction of justice.
Below are the three key points laid out in Barr's letter.
1. Mueller found that neither Trump nor his campaign "conspired or coordinated with the Russian government"
According to Barr, the Mueller report "outlines the Russian effort to influence the election and documents crimes committed by personas associated with the Russian government in connection with those efforts." But the letter quotes the Mueller report as saying "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities."
Barr went on to write that Mueller similarly did not find evidence that "anyone in the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired with the Russian government" in the hack or dissemination of Clinton campaign and Democratic party emails in 2016, "despite multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals" to assist the campaign.
This finding doubtless comes as a major relief to the White House, the Trump family, and to those who worked on the Trump campaign. It also confirms one of the central tenets of Trump's denials over the past two years, namely that there was "no collusion" between his campaign and the Russian government.
2. Mueller decided not to make a determination as to whether Trump criminally obstructed justice
The second part of Mueller's report "addresses a number of actions by the president ... that the Special Counsel investigated as potentially raising obstruction-of-justice concerns," Barr wrote.
On this, Mueller "determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgement" on the question of whether Trump's alleged attempts to interfere in the FBI's investigation of members of his administration, and later to pressure Justice Department officials into closing the special counsel probe, amounted to obstruction of justice.
The special counsel viewed these as ' "difficult issues of law and fact concerning whether the president's actions could be viewed as obstruction," wrote Barr.
Instead of making a determination, Mueller instead laid out the evidence on both sides of the argument, and left it up to Barr as to whether the evidence constituted a crime. Mueller wrote that "while this report does not conclude that the president committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."
3. Barr ultimately concluded that Mueller's evidence was not sufficient to establish that Trump committed a crime
Mueller's report left it up to Barr, Trump's recently confirmed attorney general, to decide whether Trump's actions met the standard for establishing criminal obstruction of justice. Barr wrote that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, another Trump appointee, together determined that no, they did not.
One of the factors influencing this decision, Barr wrote, was that Mueller didn't find evidence that Trump conspired with the Russians. Absent that underlying crime, Barr implies that actions Trump took, which might have seemed like Trump was trying to obstruct an investigation that he knew would ensnare him personally, can actually be viewed through a more forgiving lens.
Within minutes of the letter's release on Sunday, it was already clear that this third point, the determination by Barr that Trump did not obstruct justice, would draw the most intense scrutiny from Democrats.
"Special Counsel Mueller clearly and explicitly is not exonerating the President, and we must hear from AG Barr about his decision making and see all the underlying evidence for the American people to know all the facts," wrote House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., on Twitter shortly after his office received the letter.
Nadler noted that Mueller had worked on the probe for nearly two years and that Barr had taken two days to make his determinations based on Mueller's findings. The congressman also called for more transparency from the Justice Department.
"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 [Nadler's committee] in the near future," Nadler wrote.