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Washington analysts, journalists react to AG’s letter on Mueller report

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, and his wife Ann, depart St. John's Episcopal Church, across from the White House, in Washington, Sunday, March 24, 2019. Mueller closed his long and contentious Russia investigation with no new charges, ending the probe that has cast a dark shadow over Donald Trump's presidency. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Attorney General William Barr’s letter to Congress said special counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence that President Donald Trump or anyone on his campaign staff attempted to collude with Russia to influence the elections. Several Washington analysts and journalists joined WTOP on-air to discuss Barr’s letter.

NBC News Political Analyst Howard Fineman told WTOP that this letter seems to indicate the best possible scenario for the president and his team.

“Bill Barr’s summary states very clearly that there was no coordination with persons associated with the Russian government,” Fineman said. “I think the words ‘Russian Government’ are important here because there are lots of — as Bill Barr’s letter said — Russian affiliated individuals hanging around the Trump campaign, but they couldn’t prove they were representing the Russian government.”

WTOP’s National Security Correspondent J.J. Green said that, while the special counsel’s investigation has closed, there are a number of others still ongoing that pose challenges to the president. 

“There are at least ten investigations going on and will be going on in Congress related to this president and how he got to be president and things that have taken place since he got to be president,” Green said.

“Even though the special counsel’s investigation is into Russian collusion is over, it’s important to remember that there is a similar investigation going on in the Senate Intelligence Committee,” Green said. “While it does not carry the same weight as a special counsel investigation, it is a pretty weighty matter because they do have subpoena power and they do have the power to dig very deeply into anything that they suspect may have been going on that was wrong.”

On the question of obstruction of justice, Barr’s letter said that Mueller did not exonerate the president of having committed a crime, but neither did it make a judgment on whether there was a legal case to be made.

“The Mueller team decided not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment on that front,” Axios’ Shannon Vavra told WTOP. “That punted it to Attorney General Bill Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to determine whether what the president had done was actually criminal. They concluded that there wasn’t sufficient evidence to establish that what the president had done was an offense.”

Vavra said Trump and his camp were likely already celebrating the findings of the report, but it does not necessarily represent an end to the president’s political woes.

Democrats are making it clear the fight is far from over. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler issued several statements noting the report doesn’t exonerate the president. Nadler also said he would call William Barr to testify before Congress “in the near future.”

“We know the Democrats are still out for blood,” Vavra said. “A lot of Democrats are going to say at this point that ‘the summary we have right now is still Bill Barr’s interpretation of the Mueller report and we still want that full report.'”

Barr’s letter to Congress is a four-page summery of Mueller’s investigation, which included 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 50 FBI agents and 19 lawyers. ABC Political Director Robert Klein said he believes the next phase of the saga will be Congress’s battle to view the full report.

“I think that’s a very fair request,” Klein told WTOP. “Tax dollars paid for this, it’s of high-interest, obviously, for lots of reasons … I think the vast majority of the report should be made public.”

Between the full report and the attorney general’s anticipated testimony on Capitol Hill, Klein said the public will learn a lot more about the conclusions drawn from Mueller’s investigation.

NBC’s Fineman pointed out that Congress will now have to decide — if a federal case cannot be made — whether Mueller’s report includes enough evidence of obstruction of justice to make a case for impeachment.

“That’s a political question more than it is a legal one,” Fineman said, adding the letter is still a clear legal and political victory for the president. ” … This is just about everything Donald Trump could have hoped for.”

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