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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 April 2019

Trump increases his attacks with Mueller report due Thursday

The US president steps up his insults to undermine potential Russian disclosures

President Donald Trump and his allies also continue to attack the origins of the Russia investigation, portraying it as an effort by Democrats and career officials in the Justice Department to bring him down. AP Photo
President Donald Trump and his allies also continue to attack the origins of the Russia investigation, portraying it as an effort by Democrats and career officials in the Justice Department to bring him down. AP Photo

As Washington counts down until publication of the redacted report by special counsel Robert Mueller, now expected on Thursday, US President Donald Trump increased his attacks on Monday to undermine any disclosures on Russia, his 2016 campaign and what happened after.

Mr Trump posted tweets about the previously released summary of Mr Mueller’s conclusions produced by Attorney General William Barr.

“Mueller and the AG, based on Mueller's findings and great intelligence, have already ruled no collusion, no obstruction,” Mr Trump tweeted.

“These were crimes committed by Crooked Hillary, the DNC, dirty cops and others. Investigate the investigators.”

Press secretary Sarah Sanders repeatedly tried to make the same case on TV talk shows on Sunday.

But the political battle is far from finished over the special counsel’s investigation of Russian efforts to help Mr Trump in 2016 and whether there was collaboration with his campaign.

Democrats are calling for Mr Mueller to testify before Congress and have expressed concern that Mr Barr will order unnecessary censoring of the report to protect the president.

The House judiciary committee, led by Jerry Nadler of New York, is poised to try to compel Mr Barr to turn over an uncensored copy and the report’s investigative files.

The Justice Department announced on Monday that it expected to release the redacted version on Thursday morning, sending the findings of the nearly two-year investigation to Congress and making them available to the public.

Mr Mueller officially ended his investigation late last month and submitted the confidential report to Mr Barr.

Two days later, the attorney general sent Congress a four-page letter that detailed Mr Mueller’s “principal conclusions".

In his letter, Mr Barr said Mr Mueller did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump associates during the campaign.

But contrary to Mr Trump’s claim, Mr Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether the president obstructed justice. Instead, he presented evidence on both sides.

Mr Barr said he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to prove that the US leader had obstructed justice, but he noted that Mr Mueller’s team did not exonerate the president.

Parts of the report will be edited to protect grand jury material, sensitive intelligence, matters that could affect continuing investigations and damage to the privacy rights of third parties, Mr Barr has said.

The scores of outstanding questions about the investigation have not stopped the president and his allies from declaring victory.

They have said that the Democrats went beyond their jurisdiction with the investigation and criticised news outlets and reporters they say promoted the collusion story.

Mr Trump seethed at a political rally that the whole thing was an attempt “to tear up the fabric of our great democracy".

He has told confidants in recent days that he was certain the full report would back up his claims of vindication, Republican sources said, but was also convinced the media would manipulate the findings to damage him.

The White House has repeatedly tried to put a bright light on the story.

“There was no obstruction. I don’t how you can interpret that any other way than total exoneration,” Ms Sanders said on Fox News Sunday.

While Mr Trump unleashed his personal grievances, his team seized on any information in Mr Barr’s letter that completely cleared the president of any blame before the report was released insiders said.

The victory lap was deliberately premature, they said.

But Mr Trump’s inner circle knows there will probably be more releases of embarrassing or politically damaging information.

Mr Barr’s letter, for instance, hinted that there would be at least one unknown action by the president that Mr Mueller examined as a possible act of obstruction.

Some White House aides have said privately that they are eager for all Russia stories, good or bad, to fade from the headlines.

And there is fear among some presidential confidants that the rush to celebrate could backfire if new information emerged.

Mr Trump and his allies also continue to attack the origins of the Russia investigation, saying it was an effort by Democrats and career officials in the Justice Department to bring him down.

“The Mueller Report, which was written by 18 angry Democrats who also happen to be Trump haters (and Clinton supporters), should have focused on the people who spied on my 2016 campaign, and others who fabricated the whole Russia hoax," Mr Trump tweeted on Monday.

"That is, never forget, the crime."

His long-asserted accusation, unsupported by evidence, that his campaign was spied on was given new life last week when Mr Barr told Congress that he thought “spying did occur” in 2016.

He might have been referring to a surveillance warrant the FBI obtained in autumn of 2016 to monitor the communications of former Trump campaign aide Carter Page, who has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

The warrant was obtained after Page left the campaign and was renewed several times.

Critics of the Russia investigation have seized on the fact that the warrant application cited Democratic-funded opposition research by a former British spy into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

Mr Barr later softened his tone to: “I am not saying improper surveillance occurred.”

His comments have frustrated Democrats, who are already anxious for the release of the full, uncensored report and concerned that Mr Barr may withhold pertinent information.

The report could provide new information that could prompt further investigations or even consideration of impeachment proceedings, a tricky political calculation since Mr Mueller did not conclude there was collusion or obstruction.

The Russia probe began on July 31, 2016, when the FBI opened a counter-intelligence investigation into Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential campaign and whether anyone on the Trump campaign was involved.

That was prompted by former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos’s contacts with Russian intermediaries, including a Maltese professor who told him that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.

Updated: April 16, 2019 08:32 AM

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