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Americans await Robert Mueller report, at long last

Widespread doubt and suspicion have remained despite Attorney General Bill Barr’s statement that the Mueller investigation found no criminal collusion by Trump’s 2016 campaign with Russia.

FILE: US Special Counsel Robert Mueller. Picture: AFP.

WASHINGTON - Nearly four weeks after President Donald Trump declared himself completely exonerated of conspiring with Russia to win office or obstructing justice, Americans will on Thursday get a chance to judge for themselves with the release of a redacted version of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s final report on the politically charged case.

Widespread doubt and suspicion have remained despite Attorney General Bill Barr’s 24 March statement that the Mueller investigation found no criminal collusion by Trump’s 2016 campaign with Russia. Barr also said there was insufficient evidence of obstruction of justice to charge the president.

The details of the 400-page report - which could come out with heavy redactions - could determine whether Democrats in Congress pursue impeachment of the president.

They also could have an impact on Trump’s chances for re-election in 2020.

Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the 22-month Mueller investigation, plan a press conference at 9.30 am (13:30 GMT) on Thursday morning to discuss the report well before it is made public.

The report itself will not be given to Congress until between 11 am and noon, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler told a news conference, saying Barr “appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump.”

Congress’s top two Democrats - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer - issued a statement early Thursday calling for Mueller to testify on Capitol Hill and accusing Barr of blatantly partisan behaviour in the most explosive probe in modern US history.

They said Barr’s four-page summary of the report on 24 March was slanted in favour of the president, and his giving a news conference before the report is even released suggests he wants to put a White House spin on it before the public sees it.

“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible,” Pelosi and Schumer said.

The Washington Post reported Thursday morning that the Justice Department will release a lightly redacted version of Mueller’s report. It will provide details on Trump’s behaviour that raised suspicions he obstructed the Russia probe, the Post said, quoting people familiar with the matter.

As the world waited eagerly for their first look at the report, Trump took to Twitter to call the whole affair the “greatest political hoax of all time.”

“PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!!,” wrote Trump.

Since Barr’s brief summary of the findings, Trump has alternately proclaimed victory over his opponents and blasted the investigation as illegitimate, a “witch hunt,” and an “attempted coup” against his government.

The report was a “complete and total exoneration,” Trump declared after Barr gave his summary.

TRUMP POISED TO FIGHT BACK

The White House appeared poised Thursday to fight back.

According to news reports, Trump’s team has spoken with Justice Department officials in recent days on what the report, allowing them to craft a response.

Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani told reporters he is preparing a detailed “counter report” focusing on the obstruction allegations.

And Trump told local Washington radio station WMAL that he might hold a press conference as well.

“This should never happen to a president or to this country again, what took place,” he said of the investigation.

“You’ll see a lot of very strong things come out tomorrow. Attorney General Barr is going to be giving a press conference. Maybe I’ll do one after that; we’ll see,” he said.

DEMOCRATS DEMAND UNREDACTED REPORT

The report will focus on the primary target of the investigation: the extent of Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election and tilt it in Trump’s favour.

Much of that story has already been told by Mueller in court filings, in which he charged 26 Russians and three Russian companies with conspiracy.

The report should also summarize the already-known charges brought against six former Trump aides, and explain why none of them, or anyone else, was charged in the conspiracy that involved Russians.

And it will likely contain information on the most potent allegations against Trump on obstruction of justice.

Despite Trump’s claim that he was exonerated by Mueller, Barr’s summary revealed that, on the obstruction of justice allegation, Mueller, in fact, declined to reach a conclusion on the evidence.

And newspaper reports cited an unnamed member of Mueller’s team as saying Barr downplayed the obstruction evidence, in saying it was “not sufficient” to charge a crime.

The report’s release nevertheless is unlikely to clear the air.

Barr warned ahead of time that he will have to black out major parts - the testimony given to grand juries, information from intelligence sources, information related to ongoing investigations, and information on people not charged.

Because of that, Congress has demanded Barr hand over the unredacted version to make sure his edits aren’t protecting Trump.

Nadler is poised to subpoena the entire Mueller report and various congressional bodies are angling to have Barr testify, and possibly Mueller after that.

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