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Russia probe gives Democrats ammunition for justice obstruction charge

Russia probe gives Democrats ammunition for justice obstruction charge

New York:"This is the end of my Presidency," US President Donald Trump is reported to have exclaimed when he heard about setting up of the investigation into Russian meddling in 2016 elections, but when its report was released, he gleefully tweeted, "Game Over" for his opponents.

In reality, the fallout from the probe lies somewhere in between: Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report of the investigation found no presidency-ending collusion between Trump or his campaign and Russia, but the game is not over either as it is loaded with ammunition for the Democrats to pursue him on charges that he obstructed justice by trying to impede the probe.

The 448-page report released by Attorney General William Barr on Thursday clearly states that there was Russian interference in the election, which may give the Democrats a sense of vindication, but not the evidence of collusion that they had hoped for in their crusade to remove him from office.

To make up for the let down, they now have the obstruction charge - which is potentially criminal - to keep the heat on Trump.

Mueller's report enumerates about 10 instances of Trump trying to undermine the investigation and said ambiguously that it could not "conclusively" decide "that no criminal conduct occurred" regarding obstruction of justice.

"While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him."

While Barr said that he did not think there was enough evidence to prosecute Trump on the obstruction charge, Mueller clearly left it open to Congress to take it up.

His report said: "We concluded Congress has authority to prohibit a president's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice."

"Congress will not be silent," Democrat Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote to her party Representatives on Thursday. 

On April 22, she will hold a teleconference of her party Representatives to discuss their strategy because Congress is in recess this week and next and most members of Congress are away from the capital.

Pelosi has said that she was not for impeaching Trump unless there is a bipartisan support for it or something very significant turned up in the report - and it is open to interpretation if the facts in the report rise to that level.

Representative Rashida Tlaib is already seeking support for a resolution she wants to sponsor calling for Trump's impeachment -- and she is picking up backers.

Mueller's report, however, said that attempts at obstruction of justice failed because of his staff's opposition.

"The President's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," the report said.

For example, the report said that Trump had asked then-White House lawyer Don McGahn to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein that Mueller was conflicted and should be removed from the probe, but McGahn refused to obey him.

Trump asked campaign manager Corey Lewandowski to take a message to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to say the Russia investigation was unfair, but he didn't do it.

The report also indicated that while he may have been confident about being exonerated on the Russian collusion charge, Trump may have been concerned that a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) probe would uncover other things and, therefore, he wanted its then-director James Comey, whom he fired, to state publicly that he was not being investigated.

"The evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the president personally that the president could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns" the report said.

And this may be more ammunition for the Democrats in Congress.

As a result of the Mueller investigation, six close associates of Trump, including his campaign manager Paul Manafort, his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn have been convicted of various charges that did not involve Russian collusion.

Several Congressional panels are investigating or planning probes of various aspects of Trump's businesses, his conduct, his family and his associates and the Mueller report may help them.

Mueller's report did say that Trump did not block the investigation from getting access to documents or personnel.

The President was, however, amnesiac in his written responses to Mueller's questions saying in 30 instances that could not recall specific information.

Mueller's report went into great detail about Russian interference in the election that began in 2014. It described the Russian military intelligence agency GRU's hacking of emails of Democratic Party and it leaders that were leaked to WikiLeaks and sowed dissensions within the party.

It also said "the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company with close ties to the Russian government, to sow social discord among American voters through disinformation and social media operations".

"The evidence uncovered in the investigation did not establish that the President or those close to him were involved in the charged Russian computer-hacking or active-measure conspiracies, or that the President otherwise had an unlawful relationship with any Russian official."

Democrats fiercely criticised Barr for his interpretation of the Mueller report that downplayed the critical elements in it at his news conference before releasing the report and in his earlier summary of it.

Pelosi said that the report contradicted Barr's benign version of the obstruction charges.

Democratic Senator Kamala Harris tweeted: "Barr is acting more like Trump's defence attorney than the nation's Attorney General. His press conference was a stunt, filled with political spin and propaganda."

Democrats are also upset with Barr because before he released the report he blacked out parts of it with confidential intelligence matters, testimony that is secret under the law or information about innocent individuals and ongoing investigations or court cases.

Democrat -- and some Republican -- lawmakers have demanded to see the entire report without the redactions and Barr said that he would share with the Congressional leaders all of it except those parts he is legally obliged to keep secret. 

He is scheduled to testify before a Senate panel on May 1 and also the House Committee the next day.


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