AG pores over Russia report, details may come Sunday

Last Updated 24 March 2019, 08:09 IST

The top U.S. law enforcement official was reviewing a report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russia's role in the 2016 U.S. election, but a U.S. Justice Department official said he is not expected to release a summary of findings to Congress and the public on Saturday.

President Donald Trump remained silent on the report of an investigation that also looked into any potential wrongdoing by Trump, whose legal woes go beyond the end of the Mueller inquiry.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, who received the report from Mueller on Friday, told lawmakers in a letter that he may be able to inform them of Mueller's "principal conclusions as soon as this weekend."

A Justice Department official said Barr and his deputy were working closely with principal advisers to determine what to include in a letter to Congress. Barr will not deliver the summary on Saturday, the official said.

Senator Chris Coons, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Trump and his core team could still face legal risks even if the Mueller report does not find that they committed crimes. Trump's business, his charity and his presidential transition operation remain under investigation, Coons said, and congressional Democrats would keep looking into his activities.

"It's the end of the beginning, but it's not the beginning of the end," Coons told reporters on a telephone conference.

Under Department of Justice regulations, Barr is empowered to decide how much to disclose publicly. He said in the letter that he is "committed to as much transparency as possible."

Barr arrived at the department building in Washington shortly before 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Saturday. He was reviewing the report, a Justice Department official said.

Democrats on the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee scheduled a 2 p.m. (1800 GMT) conference call to talk about next steps and messaging, congressional aides said. The 235 members of the Democratic caucus in the House have scheduled a 3 p.m. (1900 GMT) call, a senior Democratic aide said.

Trump, who is spending the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, has not commented to reporters or taken to Twitter, one of his favorite ways of communicating, on the completion of the investigation that has cast a shadow over the Republican's two years in the White House.

Trump, who has repeatedly taken to Twitter to call the Mueller probe a political witch hunt and a hoax, may have been uncharacteristically silent but his eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., was active on Twitter, retweeting critics of the media and Democrats who argued recent developments proved there was no campaign collusion with Russia.

Trump had no public events scheduled on Saturday and was at his golf course in the morning. A large pro-Trump float behind a flatbed truck pulled up to the golf course about an hour after he arrived, adorned with American flags and "Trump 2020" signs.

Political analysts expect the Mueller report to have a significant impact on the 2020 presidential campaign - how Democrats might be able to use it stop Trump being reelected and how Trump could use it if he is cleared of wrongdoing.

The big question is whether the report contains allegations of wrongdoing by Trump or exonerates him. Mueller investigated whether Trump's campaign conspired with Moscow to try to influence the election and whether the Republican president later unlawfully tried to obstruct his investigation.

The Justice Department has a policy that sitting presidents cannot face criminal charges.

Mueller did not recommend any further indictments, a senior Justice Department official said, signaling there might be no more criminal charges against Trump associates. Mueller brought charges against 34 people and three companies, with prison sentences for some of Trump's former aides.

Trump's convicted former personal lawyer Michael Cohen implicated the president in his guilty plea on campaign finance violations in a separate prosecution brought by federal prosecutors in New York.

Barr, who took office in February, was appointed by Trump after the president fired his predecessor Jeff Sessions in November. The White House has not received or been briefed on the report, spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said on Friday, adding that "we look forward to the process taking its course."

Emmet Flood, a lawyer who represents the office of the president in the Mueller investigation, is in Florida with Trump. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone also is there, according to a person familiar with the matter. Flood is a Republican who represented President Bill Clinton in his 1998-99 impeachment proceedings.

At least two organizations filed Freedom of Information Act requests to get complete copies of the report, the Electronic Privacy Information Center and American Oversight, a group of former Obama administration officials who have pressed the Trump administration for transparency on a wide variety of issues.

By handing over the long-awaited report to Barr, Mueller marked the end of his work, with his spokesman saying the 74-year-old former FBI director would conclude his service in the coming days.

Trump has denied collusion and obstruction. Russia has denied election interference. Trump said on Wednesday he does not mind if the public is allowed to see the report.

Trump aides, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, national security adviser Michael Flynn and personal lawyer Cohen, have already either been convicted or pleaded guilty to charges brought by Mueller.

None of those charges, however, directly related to the question of collusion between the campaign and Moscow.

House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, the two top Democrats in Congress, said it was "imperative" the full report be made public, that Barr not give Trump and his team a "sneak preview" of the findings, and that the White House not be allowed to interfere in decisions about what parts are made public.

They said the investigation focused on questions that "go to the integrity of our democracy itself: whether foreign powers corruptly interfered in our elections, and whether unlawful means were used to hinder that investigation."


Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in Congress, said, "The attorney general has said he intends to provide as much information as possible. As I have said previously, I sincerely hope he will do so as soon as he can, and with as much openness and transparency as possible."

Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican and a strong ally of the president, expressed confidence the report would not find collusion with Russia.

"The reports that there will be no new indictments confirm what we've known all along: there was never any collusion with Russia. The only collusion was between Democrats and many in the media who peddled this lie because they continue to refuse to accept the results of the 2016 election," Scalise said.

Even if the Mueller report exonerates Trump, that may not spell the end to his legal troubles. Cohen pleaded guilty in August to campaign finance violations in a case overseen by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, who said in court filings that Cohen carried out the crimes at the direction of Trump.

The U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan is also looking at the spending of Trump's inaugural committee and business practices at the Trump Organization, the family's company.

U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Moscow meddled in the election with a campaign of email hacking and online propaganda aimed at sowing discord in the United States, hurting Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and helping Trump.

(Published 24 March 2019, 03:02 IST)

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