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Mueller on obstruction: Evidence prevents 'conclusively determining no criminal conduct occurred'

Special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE said in his long-awaited report that he was unable to “conclusively determine” during the course of his investigation that no criminal conduct occurred in regards to whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden to nominate Linda Thomas-Greenfield for UN ambassador: reports Scranton dedicates 'Joe Biden Way' to honor president-elect Kasich: Republicans 'either in complete lockstep' or 'afraid' of Trump MORE obstructed justice.

Mueller’s investigators wrote that they were “unable” to say definitively that Trump did not commit an obstruction of justice offense because of “difficult issues” presented by the evidence collected over the course of their nearly two-year probe, as stated in a redacted version of the special counsel’s closing documentation released by the Justice Department on Thursday.

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“[I]f we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment,” the report states.

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“The evidence we obtained about the President’s actions and intent presents difficult issues that prevent us from conclusively determining that no criminal conduct occurred. Accordingly, while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him,” it states.

Attorney General William BarrBill BarrMerrick Garland on list to be Biden's attorney general: report DOJ dropping charges against ex-Mexican defense minister DOJ watchdog finds Louisiana inmates with coronavirus were not isolated for a week MORE previously said that Mueller did not come to a conclusion one way or another on whether Trump obstructed the investigation. Instead, Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod RosensteinRod RosensteinTrump turns his ire toward Cabinet members Ex-deputy attorney general says Justice Dept. 'will ignore' Trump's threats against political rivals The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Trump's erratic tweets upend stimulus talks; COVID-19 spreads in White House MORE said they reviewed the evidence and judged it to be insufficient to accuse Trump of an obstruction of justice offense.

At a press conference shorty before the release of Mueller’s report, Barr offered a robust defense of Trump, saying the president faced an “unprecedented situation” and observing that Mueller's report acknowledges the existence of "substantial evidence" showing Trump was frustrated by a "sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks."

Mueller's team analyzed 10 "episodes" – many of which have been the subject of public reporting or took place in public view – in the course of the obstruction inquiry. Those episodes are laid out in the sprawling second volume of the report, which exceeds 400 pages. They include Trump's firing of former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyThe new marshmallow media in the Biden era McCabe defends investigation of Trump before Senate committee: We had 'many reasons' The Memo: Trump retains narrow path to victory MORE as well as his efforts to pressure then-Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsAlabama zeroes in on Richard Shelby's future Tuberville incorrectly says Gore was president-elect in 2000 Next attorney general must embrace marijuana law reforms MORE to reverse his decision to recuse himself from the Russia investigation. 

The report also details Trump’s involvement in drafting the statement from his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.Don John TrumpPresident says Trump Jr. doing 'very well' after COVID-19 diagnosis Trump has not prepared a concession speech: report Trump's company paid at least .5M by federal government: report MORE, describing the June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between his campaign and a Kremlin linked lawyer as focusing primarily on adoptions of Russian children. Trump has since acknowledged the meeting was predicated on receiving “opposition research” on his Democratic rival Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonBiden to name longtime aide Blinken as secretary of State: report Understanding mixed results in Pennsylvania key to future elections What's behind the divisions over Biden's secretary of Labor? MORE, though the participants say it never bore fruit.

And it discusses Trump’s own desire to remove Mueller and curtail the special counsel’s probe by demanding Sessions take control of the investigation.

But instead of making a traditional prosecutorial decision to charge or not charge Trump with a crime, Mueller simply laid out evidence his investigators compiled in the course of witness interviews and reviews of the president’s activities.

The report, which is only minimally redacted in the section on obstruction of justice, acknowledges the high bar of proving that a subject acted with “corrupt intent” in order to successfully prosecute an obstruction offense. The document also indicates that the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted was a factor in the decision not to accuse Trump of impeding the probe. 

And the report describes the investigation as unlike other obstruction probes, including cases in which a subject engages in obstructive activities in order to cover up an underlying crime.

Mueller’s 22-month probe did not find that the president or other members of the Trump campaign coordinated or conspired with the Russian government to interfere in the 2016 election – the core issue the special counsel was appointed to investigate.

Still, the report details what Mueller’s investigators describe as Trump’s efforts to publicly attack the investigation and to control it in private while encouraging witnesses not to cooperate. In the end, Mueller’s investigators were explicit that the report does not “exonerate” Trump of obstruction allegations, and they noted that there were other motivations -- beyond concealing a Russia conspiracy -- that could have driven Trump to impede the probe.

“The evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to Russian election interference. But the evidence does point to a range of other possible personal motives animating the President’s conduct," the report states.

"These include concerns that continued investigation would call into question the legitimacy of his election and potential uncertainty about whether certain events—such as advance notice of WikiLeaks’s release of hacked information or the June 9, 2016 meeting between senior campaign officials and Russians—could be seen as criminal activity by the President, his campaign, or his family.”

The report also states that the special counsel did not ultimately seek a grand jury subpoena to compel Trump to sit for an in-person interview because of the “substantial delay” it would have placed on the investigation – even though Mueller believed he had the authority and legal justification to do so.

Trump did provide written answers to Mueller on the subject of Russian interference and contacts between his campaign and Russians, but declined to answer questions about obstruction and to interview in person with the special counsel after more than a year of negotiation between Mueller and his attorneys.

“Ultimately, while we believed that we had the authority and legal justification to issue a grand jury subpoena to obtain the President’s testimony, we chose not to do so,” the report states. "We made the decision in view of the substantial delay that such an investigative step would likely produce at a late stage in our investigation.”

“We also assessed that based on the significant body of evidence we had already obtained of the President’s actions and his public and private statements describing or explaining those actions, we had sufficient evidence to understand relevant events to make certain assessments without the President’s testimony,” the report states.

Trump seized on Barr’s letter to Congress last month summarizing Mueller’s conclusions as vindication from allegations of Russian “collusion” and obstruction of justice, and claimed victory following the release of the Mueller report on Thursday.

“I'm having a good day too. It was called ‘no collusion. No obstruction.’ I'm having a good time,” Trump said during an event with wounded military members in the East Room of the White House. “There never was, by the way, and there never will be.”

Democrats, meanwhile, have taken issue with Barr’s handling of the Mueller report, accusing him of bias and demanding access to the full report as well as the underlying evidence. Lawmakers have also begun to call for Mueller himself to testify in public.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBarr sparks DOJ firestorm with election probes memo Marijuana stocks see boost after Harris debate comments Jewish lawmakers targeted by anti-Semitic tweets ahead of election: ADL MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement Thursday afternoon that Mueller's report describes "disturbing evidence" that Trump obstructed justice and engaged in other misconduct.

"The Special Counsel made clear that he did not exonerate the President," Nadler said. "The responsibility now falls to Congress to hold the President accountable for his actions."

Nadler also said he would subpoena for Mueller's full report, but did not provide a timeline on when he would do so.  

This story was last updated at 3:25 p.m.