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Will DOJ's Mueller Probe Summary Satisfy Congress And The Public?

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

After 22 months, the special counsel's investigation is over. And according to Attorney General William Barr, the main conclusion of the report is good news for President Trump. In a letter to Congress, Barr includes this quote from the Mueller report - "the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities," end quote - although, on the issue of obstruction of justice, Mueller and his team did not draw a conclusion one way or the other.

President Trump says the report totally exonerates him. Here's what he said on the tarmac yesterday afternoon before boarding Air Force One.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: This was an illegal takedown that failed. And hopefully, somebody's going to be looking at the other side.

MARTIN: But Democrat Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, repeated yesterday on ABC's "This Week" his claim that there is evidence of collusion among the Trump campaign.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THIS WEEK")

ADAM SCHIFF: Yeah, I did say that there is ample evidence - and indeed, there is - of collusion of people in the Trump campaign with the Russians. And that evidence, of course, includes secret meetings at Trump Tower with Russian delegations with the promise of dirt on Hillary Clinton, the provision of polling data to someone linked to Russian intelligence by Trump's own campaign chair. I could go on and on and on.

MARTIN: To walk us through what all this means, we're joined by the former head of the Office of Independent Counsel, Robert Ray. Mr. Ray, thanks for being with us.

ROBERT RAY: Thanks for having me. Good morning.

MARTIN: I want to focus in on the issue of obstruction of justice because this seems to be what is raising the most questions in the conclusions of the Mueller report. Do you agree with the attorney general's decision that the president did not violate any law when it comes to obstructing the investigation?

RAY: I do, and I think it was important for the Department of Justice to speak with one voice on the subject. The president of the United States is not above the law. But the Office of the President creates some unique issues when it comes to a determination as to whether or not an obstruction offense has been committed. And as Bob Mueller himself recognized in the report - and Bill Barr's letter indicates this - there are some complicated questions of both law and fact that go to that question.

And ultimately, as it have - is indicated in the report, that determination was left to the attorney general to make. And he made it. I think that that decision is correct, at least as I understand it from the - you know, the limited disclosure of information that is in the four-page letter that has now been released to the public.

MARTIN: But it seems the underlying argument is that because the special counsel did not find that the president committed any conspiracy crime, that as a result of that, he can't be guilty of trying to obstruct the investigation. But there does seem - why does that make sense? Can you draw the connection?

RAY: Well, I don't think it's that he can't be guilty. It's just that I think everyone recognized, as they went through this - and remember, this was now been considered over the course of 22 months. It's not just the end determination, but this is close coordination between Bob Mueller's office and the higher reaches of the Justice Department over the span of that almost two-year period to try to figure out sort of something as a practical matter is a central issue.

And that is if there's not an underlying crime here, then it's certainly - while it's not determinative, it does bear on the president's intent. In other words, how can somebody truly be said, if you, one, were to take a case before a jury, that the defendant obstructed justice in connection with an investigation, the point of which was to determine whether or not there was Russia collusion? And now there's been a determination that there was not sufficient evidence on that issue. The two...

MARTIN: Although, I mean, even though the...

RAY: The two worked - the two obviously have bearing on one another.

MARTIN: Right.

RAY: And while it doesn't, as a legal matter, preclude a determination that there was obstruction of justice, it is certainly indicative of the difficulty that one would face in having to prove the president's intent with regard to obstruction.

MARTIN: There is a conversation going on right now about whether or not the report should be made public. William Barr, the attorney general, has released a letter summarizing the main conclusions of the Mueller report, has given that over to congressional leaders. Democrats are clamoring for the entire report to be released. You've got some experience with this, as a former independent counsel.

RAY: Yes.

MARTIN: Do you believe William Barr's four-page summary of the Mueller report is sufficient?

RAY: No, and he acknowledges that it would not be sufficient either. He says at - in the - on the fourth page in the relevant section of the letter, I am mindful of the public interest in this matter. And for that reason, my goal and intent is to release as much of the special counsel's report as I can consistent with applicable law, regulations and departmental policies.

He identifies at least a couple of issues that have been previously discussed and that I have discussed. One, of course, is the barrier presented by Rule 6(c) under the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure regarding disclosure of grand jury information. And the other is disclosure of information that potentially could impact ongoing investigations. Now, I think those two issues can be overcome, either, in the first instance, by court order, and then the second, you know, by appropriate redaction.

MARTIN: OK.

RAY: But I do think you're going to see another disclosure here in the report. In one fashion or another, it will be disclosed.

MARTIN: OK. Robert Ray, a former independent counsel for the DOJ.

Thank you so much for your time this morning.

RAY: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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