Barr’s Mueller report points to “no collusion”. Here’s what we know, and what we don’t

Trump is already claiming victory, but it might be a long time before the public gets to read the full Special Counsel’s full report – if we ever do.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Whichever way you slice it, the ending of the Mueller investigation on Sunday was good news for Trump. We still haven’t seen the full report – only the summary letter handed by Attorney-General William Barr to Congress. But the main victory the president will almost certainly claim will be this key line: “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election.”

The investigation, which captured the public imagination since it started in the first weeks of the Trump presidency, has led to the prosecution of the president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, and his former campaign chief Paul Manafort, among more than 20 others. But many let themselves become hopeful that he would deliver a damning verdict against Trump himself, too.

It seems that such an end was not to be. Despite coverage of the investigation so breathless that it at times approached the realms of fan-fiction, the Mueller investigation did not end in the triumphant comeuppance that many on the left had let themselves believe it would.

As Barr’s letter describes it, the Mueller report is split into two halves: one about Russian interference, and the other about obstruction of justice. The Russian collusion section, according to Barr’s letter, comes around, essentially, to the president’s war-cry of “no collusion”, concluding that nobody on the Trump campaign joined in with the Kremlin’s conspiracy to influence the election. But it seems Mueller hedged more in the second section, essentially leaving it to the Attorney-General to determine whether what is described in the report constitutes a crime.

Again, we have not seen the full text of the report, and it may be a long time – if ever – before we do. But Barr said that he and Deputy Attorney-General Rod Rosenstein, who instigated the investigation in 2017 after then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself, “have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the president committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

What happens now? Well, first, Trump will likely claim victory – no matter how many of his former associates have been convicted during the course of the investigation – and the White House has already started to wave the report as total evidence of his innocence. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted on Sunday that the report was “a total and complete exoneration” of the president:

That’s not entirely true. There may be details in the full text of the report that might be embarrassing for Trump; Mueller – or Barr’s characterisation of his findings – is focused on the simple question of whether the evidence found rose to the point of specific crimes. But the devil may be in the details: when the public gets to read and analyse the full report, we have no idea at all what kind of picture it will paint of the president’s behaviour.

Getting it before the public may take a long time, however. Barr says in his letter that while the regulations officially state that the report is “confidential”, he says that he is “mindful of the public interest in this matter” and that “my goal and intent is to release as much of the Special Counsel’s report as I can consistent with applicable laws, regulations, and departmental policies.”

The newly-minted Democratic chairs of more than a dozen Congressional committees have already begun the process of formally requesting the report, but in his letter Barr gives himself and the Department of Justice plenty of wiggle-room for what they might and might not eventually release. First, he says, before the public can see any of Mueller’s report, the Department of Justice must go through it to determine what can be made public, and what cannot. He gives no concrete timeline for this process.

He also notes that some of the information contained in the report “could impact other matters,” by which he most likely means criminal investigations currently under way by, for example, prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. In his bombshell testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, Michael Cohen hinted that he was cooperating with just such an ongoing investigation in New York – about which, he tantalisingly hinted, the public did not yet know.

Nicky Woolf is the editor of New Statesman America. He has formerly written for the Guardian and the New Statesman. He tweets @NickyWoolf.