AG Barr releases redacted version of Mueller report
© WikiMedia (Office of Senator Lamar Alexander)

AG Barr releases redacted version of Mueller report

US Attorney General William Barr released a redacted version of the Mueller Report to Congress and the public Thursday.

The Attorney General’s Press Conference

The Attorney General announced late Wednesday that he would hold a press conference to explain the report before releasing it around 11:00 AM EST. Thursday morning, Congressional Democratic leaders Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer released a statement accusing the Attorney General of partisan tactics and called for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to testify before the House and Senate as soon as possible. The President meanwhile issued several tweets in anticipation of the Attorney General’s press conference.

The Attorney General’s press conference began early Thursday morning with a reiteration of the conclusions released in his letter to Congress that there was “No obstruction, No Collusion.” The Attorney General then proceeded to lay out an overview of the report. The Attorney General stated that the report was lightly redacted based on four categories: grand jury material, material related to ongoing matters, personal privacy and investigative techniques. Barr stated that while he and Rod Rosenstein disagreed with some of the Special Counsel’s legal theories, they did not have a problem with the framework and chose not to pursue further criminal charges. Barr announced plans to allow a bipartisan group of Congressional leaders and Committee Chairs to view a full version of the report with only Grand Jury detail redacted.

Volume I: Criminal Conspiracy in the 2016 Election

The Mueller Report as released is 448 pages long and is split into two volumes. Volume I covers investigation of criminal conspiracy between Russian officials and Trump campaign staff during and after the 2016 election. Volume II specifically examines actions that could potentially constitute obstruction of justice on the part of President Donald Trump in connection with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. The report is redacted according to the Attorney General’s stated framework of Grand Jury, Harm to Ongoing Matter, Investigative Technique and Personal Privacy. It should be noted, however, that these redactions cover about 12 percent of the report, and all four terms are used at various points to cover sections as small as footnotes or as large as entire pages. Redactions will also often leave only part of a sentence intact.

In Volume I, the Special Counsel specifically investigated any possibility of criminal conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russian government to affect the 2016 election. The Special Counsel identified two principal ways the Russian government attempted to influence the 2016 election: a massive social media campaign and a hacking operation targeting Hillary Clinton, DNC/DCCC staff and administrators of the 2016 election. The Special Counsel concluded that the social media campaign employed several thousand accounts, which spread targeted posts to 126 million people on Facebook and 1.4 million people on Twitter. The hacking operation, meanwhile, was executed by the GRU (the intelligence arm of the Russian Army), financed by a bitcoin mining operation and ultimately led to the theft of some 50,000 documents.

There were numerous instances of Trump staff having contact with Russian officials. The Trump staffers included Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, among others. Ultimately, while the Special Counsel found that the Russian government believed it would benefit from a Trump presidency and the Trump campaign believed it would benefit from Russian election efforts, the Special Counsel could not conclude an actual criminal conspiracy took place either because of a lack of evidence, a lack of provable intent, or because evidence had been lost or destroyed. Mueller analyzed this under criminal conspiracy, which requires participants to knowingly take part in an agreement to commit a criminal act, whereas collusion is not an existing term of art in criminal law.

All told, as part of Volume I, the Special Counsel indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies with various conspiracy crimes around the 2016 election. Russian military intelligence was charged with a series of hacking crimes, including conspiracy to hack 2016 election administrators and conspiracy to hack members of the DNC. Finally, several Trump staffers were charged with false statements and/or obstruction of justice crimes for false statements made to Congress or the Special Counsel.

Volume II: Potential Obstruction of Justice by the President

Volume II takes a decidedly different tactic, examining instead 10 specific episodes involving the President potentially obstructing justice. Volume II makes clear at the outset that the Special Counsel declined to make judgments about whether the President committed crimes due to any such judgment’s potential to undermine the executive branch or otherwise injure separation of powers. The Special Counsel based this decision on an Office of Legal Counsel opinion suggesting as much.

The 10 episodes of obstruction as delineated by the Special Counsel are:

A) The Campaign’s Response to Reports About Russian Support for Trump
B) The President’s Conduct Concerning the Investigation of Michael Flynn
C) The President’s Reaction to Public Confirmation of the FBI’s Russia Investigation
D) Events Leading Up To and Surrounding the Termination of FBI Director Comey
E) The President’s Efforts to Remove the Special Counsel
F) The President’s Efforts to Curtail the Special Counsel Investigation
G) The President’s Efforts to Prevent Disclosure of Emails About the June 9, 2016 Meeting Between Russians and Senior Campaign Officials
H) The President’s Further Efforts to Have the Attorney General Take Over the Investigation
I) The President Orders McGahn to Deny that the President Tried to Fire the Special Counsel
J) the President’s Conduct Towards Flynn, Manafort, [redacted for harm to ongoing matter]
K) The President’s Conduct Involving Michael Cohen
L) Overarching Factual Issues

The Special Counsel did not make any conclusions as to whether these amounted to obstruction of justice but instead considered each episode under the three-element framework of federal obstruction of justice statutes. Federal obstruction of justice requires: an obstructive act, a nexus between the obstructive act and the investigation, and a corrupt intent. The Special Counsel identified a number of potential obstructive acts, several of which may have shared a nexus with his investigation, and considered potential presidential intent to obstruct the investigation, but again the Special Counsel did not make firm conclusions. The Special Counsel stated more than once that while this report does not conclude the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.

Volume II also characterizes some defenses for the President’s actions, including statutory and constitutional defenses. Volume II concludes that if the President is to be held accountable for any actions here, it is on Congress to exercise that power.

Post-release reactions

There have been significant reactions to the release of the report on both sides and will likely be more in the coming days. Trump celebrated the report’s release as a victory in his first public statements. House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler issued a letter requesting Special Counsel Mueller’s testimony before his committee by no later than May 23 and subsequently held a press conference to respond to the released report. Senator Cory Booker released a searchable version of the Mueller report as the original version was just images. Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Schumer issued a later response calling again for the full release of the report and the testimony of Special Counsel Mueller.

Mueller employed a team of 19 attorneys, three paralegals and nine administrative staff, along with 40 supporting FBI agents in the course of his investigation. The Special Counsel’s Office issued 2,800 grand jury subpoenas and executed 500 search-and-seizure warrants, 230 orders for communication records, 50 orders for the use of pen registers and 13 requests to foreign governments, and conducted 500 witness interviews, 80 of which took place before a grand jury.