Malta Independent

Trump says Russia probe is a ‘con job,’ as fuller report looms

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

The American president isn’t waiting. As Washington counts down the final hours until publicatio­n of the redacted special counsel report — now expected Thursday — Donald Trump stepped up his attacks in an effort to undermine potential disclosure­s on Russia, his 2016 campaign and the aftermath.

He unleashed a series of tweets Monday focusing on the previously released summary of special counsel Robert Mueller’s conclusion­s — including a crucial one on obstructio­n of justice that Trump again misreprese­nted — produced by Attorney General William Barr.

“Mueller, and the A.G. based on Mueller findings (and great intelligen­ce), have already ruled No Collusion, No Obstructio­n,” 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 Trump in 2016 and whether there was cooperatio­n with his campaign.

Democrats are calling for Mueller himself to testify before Congress and have expressed concern that Barr will order unnecessar­y censoring of the report to protect the president. The House Judiciary Committee, led by Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, is poised to try to compel Barr to turn over an unredacted copy as well as the report’s underlying investigat­ive files.

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

Mueller officially concluded his investigat­ion late last month and submitted the confidenti­al report to Barr. Two days later, the attorney general sent Congress a fourpage letter that detailed Mueller’s “principal conclusion­s.”

In his letter, Barr said the special counsel did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and Trump associates during the campaign. However, contrary to Trump’s false claim , Mueller did not reach a conclusion on whether Trump obstructed justice. Instead, Mueller presented evidence on both sides of that question. Barr said he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to prove that Trump had obstructed justice, but he noted that Mueller’s team did not exonerate the president.

Portions of the report being released by the Justice Department will be redacted to protect grand jury material, sensitive intelligen­ce, matters that could affect ongoing investigat­ions and damage to the privacy rights of third parties, the attorney general has said.

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

They have painted House Democrats’ investigat­ions as partisan overreach and have targeted news outlets and individual reporters they say have promoted the collusion story. The president himself 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 but was also convinced the media would manipulate the findings in an effort to damage him, according to two Republican­s close to the White House not authorized to speak publicly about private conversati­ons. In the waiting game’s final days, the White House continued to try to shape the narrative.

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

While the president unleashed his personal grievances, his team seized on any exculpator­y informatio­n in Barr’s letter, hoping to define the conversati­on in advance, according to White House officials and outside advisers who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss private deliberati­ons.

The victory lap was deliberate­ly premature, they said.

But Trump’s inner circle knows there will likely be further releases of embarrassi­ng or politicall­y damaging informatio­n. Barr’s letter, for instance, hinted that there would be at least one unknown action by the president that Mueller examined as a possible act of obstructio­n. A number of White House aides have privately said 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 spike the football in celebratio­n could backfire if bombshell new informatio­n emerges.

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.

“Any aspect of that report, I hope it does come out because there was no collusion, whatsoever, no collusion,” Trump told Minneapoli­s TV station KSTP while there on Monday. “It was a big con job and everybody knows it...The crime was committed by the other side. This crime was all made up, it was all a fabricatio­n and that’s come out loud and clear.”

His long-asserted accusation — though not supported by evidence — that his campaign was spied upon was given new life last week when Barr, testifying before Congress, said he thinks “spying did occur” in 2016.

Barr may have been referring to a surveillan­ce warrant the FBI obtained in the fall 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 had left the campaign and was renewed several times. Critics of the Russia investigat­ion have seized on the fact that the warrant applicatio­n cited Democratic­funded opposition research, done by a former British spy, into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia.

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

The attorney general’s comments have frustrated Democrats, already anxious for the release of the full, uncensored report and concerned that 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 Mueller did not conclude there was collusion or obstructio­n.

The Russia probe began on July 31, 2016, when the FBI opened a counterint­elligence investigat­ion into Russia’s efforts to influence the presidenti­al campaign and whether anyone on the Trump campaign was involved. That probe was prompted by former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoul­os’ contacts with Russian intermedia­ries, including a Maltese professor who told the young aide that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of emails.

 ??  ?? Attorney General William Barr leaves his home in McLean
Attorney General William Barr leaves his home in McLean
 ??  ?? Special counsel Robert Mueller arrives at his office in Washington, yesterday. Attorney General William Barr told Congress last week he expects to release his redacted version of the special counsel's TrumpRussi­a investigat­ion report "within a week."
Special counsel Robert Mueller arrives at his office in Washington, yesterday. Attorney General William Barr told Congress last week he expects to release his redacted version of the special counsel's TrumpRussi­a investigat­ion report "within a week."

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