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Mueller report aftermath: Trump answers ‘witch hunt’ question, journalists defend media coverage of Russia probe

The summary of Mueller's report prompted a day of intense back-and-forth, with the White House claiming victory and Democrats questioning the impartiality of the attorney general.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks past the White House after attending St. John's Episcopal Church for morning services on Sunday, March 24, 2019.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller walks past the White House after attending St. John's Episcopal Church for morning services on Sunday, March 24, 2019.Read moreCliff Owen / AP

Special counsel Robert Mueller did not find evidence that President Donald Trump or his top aides colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, Attorney General William Barr said in a letter to Congress Sunday night.

In the four-page letter, which summarized the findings of Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, Barr wrote that the special counsel’s report stated: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

On the question of obstruction of justice, Mueller’s report was more ambiguous. According to Barr, Mueller did not take a position on whether Trump committed obstruction, stating that while his report “does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr’s summary of the report’s findings prompted a day of intense back-and-forth, with the White House cheering the conclusions and claiming victory, while Democrats questioned the impartiality of the attorney general.

Members of Congress and the public might be forced to wait awhile before seeing Mueller’s full report. Barr said his goal was to release as much of Mueller’s report as he could “consistent with applicable law, regulations, and department policies.”

Here’s what happened Monday as the Trump administration, lawmakers, and journalists responded to Barr’s summary of the Mueller report.

GOP goes on the offense, calls for Schiff to step down

After months of uncertainty surrounding the Mueller investigation, Republican lawmakers and White House aides have launched into an attack on House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D., Calif.), demanding the Democrat resign from Congress and alleging he promoted claims of collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign.

“[Schiff] owes the American public an apology,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said during an interview with Fox News. “Schiff has met the standard that he has imposed on other members of Congress of when they should step back from their positions. He has exceeded that standard, and there is no question he should step down from the Intel chairmanship.”

Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway (a South Jersey native) demanded Schiff resign “today,” while Donald Trump Jr. taunted the congressman on Twitter.

In a mass letter to network television producers, Tim Murtagh, Trump’s communications director, also named Schiff on a “list of guests who made outlandish, false claims” regarding the Russia probe during television interviews.

“Moving forward, we ask that you employ basic journalistic standards when booking such guests to appear anywhere in your universe of productions,” Murtagh’s letter said.

Others on the list include Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D., N.Y.), Rep. Eric Swalwell (D., Calif.), Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez, and former CIA Director John Brennan.

Trump: ‘Wouldn’t bother me’ if Mueller report goes public

During an Oval Office meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump told reporters he through Mueller acted honorably, and that it “wouldn’t bother me” if Barr decided to release the special counsel’s full report to the country.

“We’re glad it’s over. It’s 100 percent the way it should’ve been,” Trump told reporters, answering a question about whether Mueller’s investigation turned out not to be a “witch hunt,” as the president often referred to the Russia probe over the past two years.

Trump also pivoted to criticize unnamed people who, in the president’s opinion, did “some very, very evil things, very bad things. I would say treasonous things against our country.”

“I love this country as much as I can love anything, but what they did… It was a false narrative. It was a terrible thing,” Trump said. “We can never let this happen to another president again. Very few people I know could have handled it.”

Pence: Mueller report ‘was a total vindication’ of Trump and campaign

Speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Monday, Vice President Mike Pence called Attorney General William Barr’s summation of the Mueller report a “total vindication.”

“After two years of investigation and reckless accusations by Democrats and many members of the media, the special counsel confirmed what President Trump said all along: There was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election, and the attorney general confirmed there was no obstruction of justice,” Pence said, later adding that the news “should be welcomed by every American.”

However, according to Barr’s letter, Mueller reached no conclusion on whether there was obstruction of justice.

Amid fallout, Trump welcomes Israeli prime minister to White House

As fallout surrounding the Mueller report consumes Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is visiting the White House. The visit highlights the friendly relationship between Trump and Netanyahu, who is facing four counts of corruption charges as he vies for reelection next month.

The prime minister is cutting short his White House visit after a rocket launched from the Gaza Strip struck a home in Israel overnight.

Lindsey Graham to investigate origins of Trump-Russia probe

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, vowed to investigate the origin of the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

"The FISA warrant issued against Carter Page based on a dossier prepared by Christopher Steele is at a minimum disturbing. Whether or not it’s illegal, I don’t yet know. So I’m going to get answers to this,” Graham told reporters Monday on Capitol Hill.

Graham also told reporters he intended to look back at former FBI director James Comey’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email servers, and why then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch recused herself. He also said he wanted Barr to testify before his committee in a public hearing.

“The truth is I want you to know as much as there is to know,” Graham told reporters.

Supreme Court rejects appeal from mystery company

The Supreme Court has refused to hear an appeal from a mystery corporation that has refused to turn over information subpoenaed by Mueller.

Prosecutors have been attempting to get information from the company, which said in redacted court filings it was a witness in Mueller’s investigation.

The Supreme Court’s decision comes after Mueller has wrapped up his investigation, so it remains unclear how the subpoena for information will proceed. The current status of the grand jury impaneled in the case is also unclear.

Journalists defend their coverage of Russia probe

Following Mueller’s assessment on collusion, it didn’t take long for reporters and pundits to draw criticism from both the left and the right for their intense coverage of the special counsel’s investigation.

“Nobody wants to hear this, but news that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller is headed home without issuing new charges is a death-blow for the reputation of the American news media,” Rolling Stone columnist Matt Taibbi wrote over the weekend.

Reporters and editors have largely responded Monday by defending their coverage of Mueller’s investigation.

“I’m comfortable with our coverage,” New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet told the Washington Post. “It is never our job to determine illegality, but to expose the actions of people in power. And that’s what we and others have done and will continue to do.”

The Times and the Post shared a 2018 Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on the investigation into Russian interference, including revelations about contacts between Kremlin-linked figures and Trump associates and advisers.

“I don’t seem to recall these same pundits demanding journalists apologize for aggressively covering the Hillary Clinton email probe after James Comey decided not to bring charges,” CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote in Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources newsletter.

Sarah Sanders: Trump owes no apology to Mueller

During an appearance on the Today show Monday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders bristled at the idea Trump owed Mueller an apology for his repeated attacks on the special counsel’s investigation.

“Are you kidding?” Sanders told Today co-host Savannah Guthrie, offering instead that “Democrats and the liberal media owe the president and they owe the American people an apology.”

Trump has repeatedly referred to Mueller’s investigation as a “witch hunt,” and claimed Mueller himself was “disgraced and discredited." The president has said Mueller’s team of prosecutors was “a national disgrace” filled with “Hillary Clinton supporters.”

Sanders also called the investigation, which reportedly cost at least $25 million, a “waste of taxpayer time and dollars.”

“This should never happen to another president, and we want to make sure that the institution of the president is protected,” Sanders said.

Trump lawyer thinks most of Mueller report will be made public soon

Jay Sekulow, an attorney for Trump, said on MSNBC Monday morning he expected the bulk of Mueller’s report would be made public by Barr in short order.

“There’s a process and steps they have to go forward, but I suspect that [Barr] will make as much of it public as possible, and it’ll be sooner rather than later,” Sekulow told Morning Joe co-host Joe Scarborough.

On a seperate appearance on CNN, Sekulow said he would not make the answers Trump submitted to Mueller’s investigation public. Sekulow called the answers “confidential” and claimed any attempt to make them public would be “very inappropriate.”

“As a lawyer, you don’t waive privileges and you don’t waive investigative detail absent either a court order or an agreement between the parties,” Sekulow told New Day co-anchor Alisyn Camerota. “And you’d have to weigh a lot of factors there on how that affects other presidencies."

Pelosi, Schumer question impartiality of attorney general

In a joint statement, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Barr, a Trump appointee, was “not a neutral observer,” claiming his letter to Congress “raises as many questions as it answers.”

“Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report,” Pelosi and Schumer said in the statement. “And most obviously, for the president to say he is completely exonerated directly contradicts the words of Mr. Mueller and is not to be taken with any degree of credibility.”

Like many Democrats, both Pelosi and Schumer are both pushing for Mueller’s full report and its underlying documents to be released to Congress.

Top Democrat plans to call attorney general in for questioning

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D., N.Y.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, wrote on Sunday that his committee would call Barr to testify about his findings and his determination — based on Mueller’s evidence — that Trump did not attempt to obstruct justice.

“DOJ owes the public more than just a brief synopsis and decision not to go any further in their work,” Nadler wrote on Twitter. “Special Counsel Mueller worked for 22 months to determine the extent to which President Trump obstructed justice. Attorney General Barr took 2 days to tell the American people that while the President is not exonerated, there will be no action by DOJ.”

What remains unknown about Mueller’s investigation

• Why Mueller decided not to make a judgement on whether Trump attempted to obstruct justice.

• Why Trump was never interviewed by Mueller related to his investigation into possible obstruction of justice. (The president submitted written answers to questions on some matters.)

• What Mueller actually said about obstruction of justice in his report.

• If there was no collusion, why did so many people in Trump’s orbit — including his former campaign chairman — lie about their interactions with Russians?

» READ MORE: As Trump declares victory in Mueller probe, Democrats call for more information, continued investigation

» READ MORE: March Mueller Madness shows the system that worked in Watergate is broken today | Will Bunch