Editorial: No absolute victories in Mueller report

Editorial: No absolute victories in Mueller report

Even release of full report may not end divisiveness

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Now that the Mueller investigation has been completed and a summary of the results released by Attorney General William Barr, Republicans and Democrats alike are claiming some degree of victory.

For Republicans, it was acknowledgement that special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. For Democrats, it was the fact that Mueller reached no conclusion – certainly not exoneration — on whether Trump obstructed or attempted to obstruct justice.

Mueller’s conclusions, summarized by Barr in a four-page letter to Congress, clearly signaled a victory for Trump on one key question that has dogged his presidency from the start — whether his campaign worked with Russia to defeat Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

Though Mueller did not find evidence that anyone associated with the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government, Barr’s summary noted there were “multiple offers from Russian-affiliated individuals to assist the Trump campaign.”

While Mueller’s report was seen as categorical in ruling out criminal collusion, the special counsel was more circumspect on presidential obstruction of justice.

Despite Trump’s much-anticipated claim of total exoneration, Mueller did not draw a conclusion one way or the other on whether the president sought to stifle the Russia investigation through his actions.

Mueller’s team examined a series of actions by the president over the last two years to determine if he intended obstruction. This included his firing of FBI Director James Comey one week before Mueller’s appointment as special counsel; his public and private complaints about then-Attorney General Jeff Session for recusing himself from the Russia investigation because of his work on the Trump campaign; Trump’s request of Comey to end an investigation into Michael Flynn, the president’s first national security adviser; and his drafting of an incomplete explanation of his oldest son’s meeting with a Russian lawyer during the campaign.

Barr, who was nominated by Trump in December, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller special counsel in May 2017 and oversaw much of Mueller’s work, jointly determined that Mueller’s evidence was insufficient to prove in court that Trump committed obstruction of justice to hamper the probe.

Still, the suggestion that Mueller may have found evidence — at least some evidence — supporting an obstruction charge spurred a call by Democrats for the full report to be released and a vow to move forward with their own investigations.

At least some Republicans, Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, included, have joined Democrats in the call for complete release — within legal limits — of the report.

“After this nearly two-year investigation, the special counsel has concluded that there was no collusion or coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election,” Ernst said in a release. “It’s time to move on and focus on preventing any more involvement or influence by Russian in our elections, which is vital to protecting our democracy and our nation’s security.

“I strongly believe that as much of the report than can be made public should be ‑ barring any national security threat,” Ernst added. “Taxpayers have paid millions for this investigation; it’s only right that they see its findings.”

The past two years have been an extraordinarily divisive time in American political history. We think Ernst and those who agree with her are right in calling for release of Mueller’s full report.

Unfortunately, even that is no guarantee of an end to the distrust and divisiveness that is straining our government. But it would be a step in the right direction.

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